BPEX blog

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.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Piglet weight increasing as stockmanship improves

Pig stockpeople are improving both pig productivity and their own skills, helped along by the BPEX Stockman Development Scheme and Stockman Plus courses which we ran in the north and east this year.

Stockman Callum Musgrave said the Stockman Development Scheme (North) had increased his awareness that even the smallest things matter. “One of the key things I’ve changed is to focus on temperature in farrowing house as it’s really important for sow performance. I check the temperature regularly throughout the day to make sure it’s constant and also check the sows have eaten their feed and are comfortable and not panting.  

“We’ve now just started getting more feed into sows and increasing piglet weight.  Enhanced knowledge has made me a much better stockman.”

Through the Stockman Development Scheme we're aiming both to improve technical knowledge, via pig production workshops, and also provide understanding of the pig supply chain through visits to feed mills and abattoirs.  The workshop topics include: veterinary and medicines, farrowing management and establishing the weaned pig. The Stockman Plus scheme is the next level up and focuses on problem-solving exercises as well as building up pig husbandry knowledge.

Importantly, for trainees at both levels, the chance to get together regularly at training sessions enables everyone to share, improve and learn from the changes they’ve tried out back on their units. 

There is more information on the full range of courses and skills development activities, from stockman up to unit manager level, on the BPEX website here.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Focus on ‘the three Rs’ to tackle seasonality

Given the last few winters we’ve had, it’s hardly surprising that sows do not want to farrow during the colder months. 

But there are measurements producers can take this summer to give real-time information about ‘at risk’ sows, so that their management can be 
adapted and reproductive loss reduced.

Roundness, returns and replacements, ‘the three Rs’, are the key areas to focus on recording. Specifics include:
  • Body condition scoring at farrowing and weaning identifies sows that are at risk of losing condition during lactation
  • A fertility chart gives a real-time farrowing rate record and identifies when sows are returning
  • Recording dates of oestrus on simple recording sheets and colour coding gilts using spray marker (pictured) helps keep track of replacement gilts coming into the system. 
Read more in this month’s BPEX Pink Pages, here, which is published monthly in Pig World magazine. 

And for further technical information and factsheets on breeding herd management click here

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

BPEX Practical Pig App training tool doubled in size

We've just doubled the size of the BPEX Practical Pig App with a new range of video clips added for the wean-to-finish herd. There are more than 40 new videos demonstrating practical tasks, from preparing weaner accommodation to feed and water checks, ventilation, pig handling and selecting pigs for sale.

These are in addition to the 50 clips on breeding herd management, which were produced for the app’s launch last year. It has already been downloaded more than 1200 times by smartphone or tablet computer users and a further 2600 people have viewed the video clips on the internet.

It’s exciting to see how many producers and stockmen are trying our app and how useful they’re finding it as a training tool. You can use it in situ out on the unit so supervisors can watch the video clips with staff and discuss key points in the context of their particular unit – as seen on the BBC Look East news programme recently! 

If there are pig management techniques producers would like to be added to the app, please let the BPEX knowledge transfer team know at kt@bpex.ahdb.org.uk; it’s a dynamic video library that can be built to suit the industry’s needs.

To download the app, free, for smartphone or tablet computer, go to play.google.com or www.apple.com and search for BPEX Practical Pig App or, to download the videos on a PC or laptop, go to practicalpig.bpex.org.uk

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Meet the BPEX team at Pig and Poultry Fair

The BPEX team will be there to meet and talk to visitors on Stand 49, Hall 2, at Pig and Poultry Fair 2014 next week. 

All are invited to come and have a drink with us and discuss any aspect of their business, from staff training and using the new Practical Pig App to environmental compliance and pig housing. You will also be able to find out about BPEX's new strategy, to be launched at the Fair. 

To help make sure you don’t miss anyone, check the panel, left, for times when specific staff will be available on the stand to meet you and answer your questions. 

Three BPEX speakers are also lined up for the Fair’s 'Outlook for pigs' forum, to help producers make sure their business is competitive, growing and able to successfully overcome the challenges ahead. The forum will look at on-farm productivity, trends in the retail market and where to invest to ensure business success in the years ahead. 

For more information, go to: www.bpex.org.uk/events/conferences/pigfair.aspx  

Monday, 28 April 2014

Gilt management is about not cutting corners

“Fine-tuning gilt management is the key to ‘the next level’” was the proclamation made to me by a pig producer recently and, to date, an improvement of up to 1.5 piglets born alive per litter has been achieved in this herd. The unit’s performance was recorded using a computerised system for individual gilt and sow records. It is the interrogation of records that allows producers to identify areas where performance can be improved and, as always, the more information recorded, the more useful that data set becomes.

As the number of gilts is between 20 to 25% of the herd at any one time, their contribution to the overall herd performance is very influential.  In this case, when analysing age of service and subsequent performance, it became apparent that gilts served over 250 days did not perform as well as younger gilts. 

How gilts were fed during the critical periods was reviewed so that, pre service, gilts are now flushed to maximise ovulation rate and, post service, the producer is avoiding over-feeding, to assist with implantation.

So, the moral of this particular (true) story is: 1. Keep individual sow and gilt records and make time to interrogate the data 2. Identify areas that are underperforming 3. Take advice and decide on actions to improve situation 4. Continue monitoring and evaluating.

On any farm, gilt management is about not cutting corners; the time you invest at this crucial stage will pay dividends in the long-term performance of your herd. BPEX is continuing to work with producers on gilt management as part of the Breed+3 programme to improve breeding herd performance. Click here for more information in our gilt management pack. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Tackling the perennial problem of seasonal infertility

We held a meeting on seasonal infertility at Bury St Edmunds last week where we outlined the results of a series of interventions carried out on farm. 

I was really pleased with how well attended our meeting was, with the audience providing some very useful and constructive feedback. A second is being held in the North of England on Tuesday, April 8. The meeting was attended by about 40 people covering producers, allied industry, nutritionists, feed companies and pharmaceutical firms so the whole industry was covered.

The interventions were:
  • Providing shade. Anecdotally it looks favourable and will be continued during the warmer months this year to provide enough information for conclusions to be drawn.
  • Ad –lib feeders. One important result was that body condition scoring proved to be successful and again this has continued on one unit and has been introduced into the quarterly vet visit
  • Feeding dextrose. Again the sample size is so far too small and this will be continuing. However, it did show an improvement in performance and more work will determine if this trend continues.
One of the speakers at the event was consultant Stephen Hall who said to know your FR% you must understand your reservice rate and how these animals are contributing to overall herd performance. And there was a good discussion on areas BPEX might like to look at next which included:
  • We must take the top farms from benchmarking records and understandhow they achieve the best levels of pre-weaning mortality
  • Summer lactation diets
  • Managing a gilt separately through to second farrowing
There were many very positive comments about the workshop as this is a problem from which the industry has always suffered. It is important to try to find ways of reducing the effects and improving efficiency which will have a direct effect on profitability.

For more information about the Northern workshop click here