BPEX blog

Monday, 8 September 2014

Wean-to-service sow diets: impact on litter size

Good oocyte (egg) production and quality have a major impact on litter size and sows need careful nutritional management to achieve it, particularly during the wean-to-service period.

Improving litter size is currently a key target for the industry, to help close the performance gap with our European competitors, and managing oocyte production and quality is the first opportunity, right at the start of the breeding cycle, to optimise it.

There’s a challenge to satisfy the high nutritional demands of late lactation and also provide the right nutrients for good quality oocytes during the last 14 days before the sow’s next ovulation. In particular, it is the last 7 to 10 days before ovulation where nutrition has the greatest effect.  

Many producers feed ad lib lactation diets before service to help replace sow body condition but more are now moving to tailored wean-to-serve diets with supplementary ingredients to target the different needs, including oocyte production. The options include supplementary sugars and organic acids.

Pig nutritionist Andrew Zarkos-Smith is one of a number who are working with pig producers on ‘wean-to-service’ nutrition. He says that, rather than feeding only a basic lactation or gestation diet, these diets need to be formulated specifically for every farm. There can be an improvement of an extra 0.5 piglets per litter at least by feeding such a diet.

The diets include sugars such as dextrose and sucrose which research has shown boost the sow’s insulin levels which, in turn, increases the luteinising hormone and stimulates her to ovulate more vigorously.  This means a larger number of quality eggs is released for potential fertilisation.

BPEX is currently running a feeding trial to monitor the impact of feeding sugars. There are also 12 pig producers taking part in a BPEX body condition scoring trial, scoring sows as they go into farrowing and as they come out. This is to try to find links between changes in body condition and identify sows within the herd which are most at risk of fertility issues. 

My full article on this topic is in the September issue of Pig World magazine

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Sharing ideas from other farms

When BPEX finds practical ideas on farm that are innovative and effective, it aims to tell others about it in its short Farm Case Study factsheets. 

The series helps share how producers do things so others can try new techniques or equipment having seen some evidence of how they work. The aims may be to improve productivity, save money, boost staff morale or all three.

The factsheets include solutions on a range of topics including: creep training, fox fencing on outdoor units, gilt management, staff training, split suckling, solar energy, farrowing paddock wallows and soil management.

There are currently 36 Farm Case Studies to browse; they are available online here and can also be ordered in the post by calling: 0247 647 8792 or emailing kt@bpex.ahdb.org.uk  


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Avoiding any guesswork in on-farm decisions

The changes that can make the biggest difference to pig performance and cost-cutting are often flagged up by recording and spending time understanding data. So BPEX has provided a Recording Toolkit to help producers get the most out of recording.

The toolkit comprises: a ‘Which Guide’ to recording and decision support systems, a cost of production calculator, national costings and herd performance figures, case studies, the BPEX recording field trial report. Also included is a webinar with Danish pig consultant and ex-production manager, Sanne Baden, on getting the most out of your data recording system.

Sanne worked with six English producers on a 12-month BPEX field trial on data recording. She says that, without good record keeping, the decisions made on farm can be little more than guesswork.

“You need to ensure that the right information is being collected and is recorded accurately before you can even start figuring out what it means and whether change is needed to keep performance and costs of production to target.”

The key points highlighted during the BPEX recording trial to maximise the value of data are:

Recording the right data
Running regular reports
Benchmarking
Target setting
Checking progress and monitoring interventions.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Coping with larger litters

An increase in sow performance and larger litter sizes in the English industry has highlighted challenges with weaning and rearing the extra pigs and BPEX is helping producers find solutions to this.

Knowledge transfer manager Angela Cliff says: “It is important to ensure all piglets drink adequate colostrum to get off to a good start and to make sure that sows are milking properly. There are videos to help demonstrate colostrum management to staff, available on the BPEX Practical Pig App and the app website (pictured). We’re also working with a producer who is focusing on recording and analysing the data to ensure he selects the more milky sows to breed from to help rear the larger litters they produce.”

The farrowing disc, free from BPEX, is another tool now being used by many producers to help keep tabs on which sows have farrowed, when they might need assisting and when colostrum is likely to be available for split suckling.

Other areas to look at include ensuring optimum temperatures in creep areas and towel drying small piglets to reduce the chance of chilling.

“Then, a longer-term option to consider is reducing sow numbers, to leave some empty farrowing pens free for nurse sows if needed to help rear the extra piglets. Small pig management is something we’ll be including in our autumn workshops.”

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Innovation Conference: feeding every pig its exact requirements

If you've not yet had chance to catch up with the presentations and speaker videos from this year's BPEX Innovation Conference, they're all available here to view

Meeting the exact nutrient requirements of sows and finishers through bespoke feed rations was a key theme, with examples of how it can be done in practice.

Producers Richard Hooper and Phil Stephenson cited key benefits of lowering feed costs per pig, as well as a reduction in labour intensity and less feed wastage. As a result, overall feed savings of up to 10% were identifed, although the systems do involve high initial investment.

Richard Hooper manages a 240-sow indoor unit at Harper Adams University. He has introduced a  ‘multifast’ feeding system that delivers a specific blend of feed to each pen of finishers to meet each pig’s nutritonal requirements more accurately.

Phil Stephenson, owner and manager of a 700-sow, indoor farrow-to-finish unit spoke about his Gestal wireless sow feeding system. Phil said: “It’s used in the farrowing house and ensures that each sow receives the correct amount of feed based on her parity. This varies between two feeds a day up to farrowing and six feeds a day post farrowing. The system has saved my business as much as £20,000 since installation.

“The computer software allows each individual sow to be monitored from my office. The data produced means that I can nip any issue in the bud before it becomes too serious.”

This tied in with another overarching message from the conference:  if you don’t measure it, you can’t control it. In his presentation, Hugh Crabtree of Farmex said: “Data should be turned into knowledge then used to generate profit. Even the most experienced can learn something when they start measuring.”

He said there was no need to measure everything but the key elements were temperature, water, energy, feed and growth.

“The data must be used to get more things more right more of the time. Do that and the pigs’ biology will respond.”

There are also a few pictures from the conference here

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Modified dry sow arcs aim for targeted feeding

I’ve been working with an outdoor producer to set up a new trial to target delivery of feed into modified dry sow arcs, with the help of a BPEX Innovation Fund grant.

The producer started thinking about how he could feed his pigs effectively by reducing wastage, without incurring too much cost. Because the land can be quite wet at times it was having an impact on sow condition and was also leading to increased aggression. Extra food was having to be given to compensate for what was being lost in the wet ground.

So he has developed a concept where he can simply pull up to his dry sow arc and activate a quick release lever and deliver food into each hut.

On my first look at a group of sows being fed in the new huts, what struck me was just how calm the sows were. A little food is blown in to start with, then the rest is delivered between the two huts. The sows seem to find a natural order. There has also been a significant reduction in bird activity in the dry sow paddocks.
  • The following data will be collected from both the trial feed delivery system and current dry sow feeding system:
  • Group size (20-22/pen)
  • Feed usage per sow
  • Straw usage
  • Bird prevalence in respective paddocks
  • Staff time in feeding and bedding up
  • Sow aggression as measured by incidents of vulva biting         
  • Sow physical performance data
If you’d like to find out more or have any comments, please get in touch. We’ll provide more updates as we gather in the data

Monday, 21 July 2014

Farrowing tent aims to reduce piglet mortality


Our BPEX outdoor farrowing tent field trial is yielding positive results so far, including up to 50% savings in straw usage, compared with traditional arcs, as well as easier access for staff.

The overall aim is to increase the production potential of outdoor farrowing by providing more control at farrowing time. This should lead to lower pre-weaning mortality and provide a better environment for the staff to work in at this crucial stage of the production cycle.

The two producers trialing the farrowing tent are weighing the piglets coming out of both the tent and the arcs to see what, if any, difference there is between weaning weights. Next steps also include further modification of the internal sloping wall which helps the sow to lie down while giving piglets an escape route from potential crushing.

If the development of this practical solution proves successful, it will be highly valuable to the outdoor industry as average figures for pigs weaned per sow per year in outdoor systems continue with little improvement according to Agrosoft’s 12-month rolling data.

Click here to see our photo story showing the design and summarising the project so far.