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Managing By Numbers

by 5m Editor
17 April 2009, at 12:00am

"You can't manage what you don't measure," said Roger Meadows at the opening of his presentation at the BPEX Knowledge Transfer Event 'Change for Success' last month. ThePigSite Editor, Jackie Linden, summarises his highlights to demonstrate the benefits of keeping good records.

Roger Meadows, manager of Alexander and Angel Farms Ltd, has a poultry background, taking on pig unit management just four years ago. One thing soon struck him: there was much less recording than on the broiler breeder farm where he had worked previously. With farm owner, Andrew Hope, he set up similar systems for targeting and monitoring on the pig unit. At the 'Change for Success' meeting, Mr Meadows explained how he did this, set appropriate targets and how the business is now reaping the benefits.

He explained that the broiler breeder business he had managed comprised 72,000 birds on four farms and in 31 houses. Daily records were kept for feed and water consumption; maximum and minimum temperatures and relative humidity; total eggs laid (in nests and on the floor) and hatching egg quality and the reasons for failure. In addition, weekly checks were made of the weights of a sample of eggs and body weights of males and females. A sample of eggs was also incubated to ascertain the level of fertility.


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"The time used for recording and analysing the information is a worthwhile investment and, in my opinion, absolutely necessary for the continuous improvement of the unit"

When Mr Meadows took over the pig farm management, it was decided to change the direction of the farm from multiplier to a breeder/feeder unit with its own breeding programme. This meant a new set of challenges and an increased need for recording systems. After sale weights and markets had been established, new reporting and recording systems were put in place, including Agrosoft Winpig for the breeding herd and an in-house system to report and record house temperatures and water consumption.

It was decided to continue tattooing the piglets but to include the week of their birth. A new trolley was purchased to move the litters at weaning, as well as to record weaning weight. At selection, birth weight was also noted in order to calculate an average daily gain from weaning to sale.

However, this system did not give sufficient information about the performance of pigs through the system for Mr Meadows. So with the help of a grant from BPEX, load cells were installed to record the weight of batches of pigs at intermediate points in the cycle: from the flat-deck to the grower house; from the grower house to the finisher house; and from the verandah house to the finisher house.

Recording Improves Growing/Fattening Performance

With this more accurate information, Mr Meadow explained that is was then possible to calculate average daily gain for each stage of production.

With advice from the genetics and feed companies, he was able to set appropriate target weights-for-age. Figure 1 shows the flow of pigs from weaning, as well as the target weights set for each stage. Note that the pigs were weaned at four weeks of age, and that the lighter piglets ('second stream') were reared separately to 10 weeks of age, in verandahs and with speical attention to the feed and management, particularly drinker height.


Figure 1. Pig flow and target weights

Mr Meadows went on to explain how the records are being used for analysis. From rearing to the finisher herd, they can establish performance at each stage, identifying areas where they can improve, and allowing early intervention in case of problems. As a result, they have improved the following exit weights of the pigs:

  • from the nursery to the grower house from under 19 kg to 20 kg
  • from growing to finishing (at 12 weeks) from 35 kg to just under 38 kg, and
  • from the verandah to the finisher house (for the streamed pigs at 10 weeks) from 22 kg to 24 kg.

The additional data gives more information on the performance of each pen of pigs, and within-pen variation, and allows them to select pigs for each particular contract to maximise total income. As a result, 95 per cent of the farm's pigs now achieve the targets specified in the contract (weight 67 to 85 kg dead weight; P2 measurement of 12 mm).

It also allows them to select pigs to reduce stocking density and improve pen clearance.

And finally, it offers the possibility to select the smaller pigs and give them extra attention.

As a result of the new recording systems, the average sale weight has remained the same, while the proportion of pigs achieving the weight has risen from under 10 per cent before recording to almost 90 per cent currently.

Breeding Herd Benefits

Benefits of recording have also been observed in the breeding herd. There is now a record of overall performance and action sheets, and individual sow records allow for individual analysis. As a result, like the feeding herd, it is possible to identify areas for improvement in the breeding herd and early intervention if performance falls.

For the breeding herd, the recording has shown that the number of piglets weaned per sow per year has remained constant at around 25, while the farm has switched from natural mating to artificial insemination. With the help of the recording system, this was traced to poor fertility of gilts and sows, and prolonged period from weaning to oestrus. The farm records highlight how fertility rate is related to the weaning-to-oestrus period in 2007 and 2008 (Figure 2). Now, 84 per cent of the females come into oestrus by day 6 following weaning (the target is 90 per cent) but the new target is to serve 40 per cent of sows within four days of weaning. Currently, the rate is about half of that.


Figure 2. Relationship between fertility rate (FR, %) and weaning-to-oestrus interval (WOI)

"By measuring, analysing and implementing changes in the finishing, we know we have in the nursery and in the grower house, and in the verandah and finishing houses for the smaller 'second stream' pigs," said Mr Meadows.

To illustrate the point, he presented a graph of average growth rates. From weaning to sale, average daily gain has increased over successive quarters from 601 g (in the second quarter of 2008, when the scales were introduced) to 701 g for the current quarter.

"Without numbers from the pig business, I would be stabbing in the dark when deciding what, where and how to improve performance," he said.

"The time used for recording and analysing the information is a worthwhile investment and, in my opinion, absolutely necessary for the continuous improvement of the unit," Mr Meadows concluded.

Further Reading

- You can view other presentations from Change for Success by clicking here.


April 2009