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PRRS Control Pushes Performance Past 28 Pigs Sold/Sow/Year

by 5m Editor
24 July 2006, at 12:00am

By Intervet - Perfection is not what North Yorkshire pig producer Tim Chapman is aiming for, but by applying logic, modern technology and good stockmanship, the results achieved on his 260-sow herd are near perfect and could rival the very best production figures from anywhere in Europe.

Disease control and a planned production philosophy lifts productivity and efficiency

Tim's breeding and finishing herd at Scruton was re-populated in 2003 with Hermitage gilts. It remains enzootic pneumonia (EP) free and the three-week batch farrowing system, that's been used for more than nine years, achieves excellent results. During the past six months the unit has sold 28.3 pigs per sow per year, a figure Tim calculates by dividing the number of pigs sold by the average number of sows and served gilts each month. In fact, performance from across the herd is very impressive (see table).


Problems since repopulating


Some of Tim Chapman's 'thumping' 20 day old piglets


Nine week old weaners in groups of 85 pigs have plenty of space


Tim Chapman half-fills sow troughs with water
Unfortunately, wasting disease has been a problem since the repopulation, with some batches hitting 20 per cent mortality. However, PMWS has now stabilised and the production of healthy, fast-growing pigs is the norm. Batch production and a thorough, washing, drying and disinfection routine, plus a generous space allowance for weaners, have helped to minimise the effects of PMWS. Also the introduction of Hampshire and Titan genetics has also had a positive impact in minimising this disease.

Fertility in the breeding herd dipped about 18 months ago. The number of sows returning five weeks after service increased to 15 per cent, which upset the batch system and made it difficult to manage. Tim works closely with his vet Frank Tobin MRCVS of Holmefield Farm Services and on his advice decided to have a number of 'problem' sows blood tested. The samples showed high PRRS antibody titres and so Frank suggested a change to the vaccination policy. Tim switched from using a dead PRRS vaccine to Porcilis PRRS, a live vaccine manufactured by Intervet. As a result, fertility is better and the service return rate has fallen to five per cent - making life much easier with a much more uniform output of quality piglets, says Tim.

Also interesting is his use of a Porcilis Ery+Parvo, a combined Erysipelas and Parvovirus vaccine that Tim gives to sows during every lactation. Tim feels that the Vitamin E adjuvant used in this vaccine gives sows a boost and, as he's running a high output system, it assures him of adequate parvo protection. German and French pig producers believe that regular parvo boosters help to reduce the incidence of PMWS and enhance breeding performance, which is also worth consideration (report in Pig World, October 2004).

Farrowing house management

Tim's farrowing houses are thoroughly washed then allowed to dry before being disinfected. A bio-cyst disinfectant is also used on the dry surfaces to control coccidiosis. The Hermitage sows are extremely good milkers and Tim uses a Domino ad lib hopper feeder, which holds 12kg of home mixed ration, to optimise feed intakes. Food is dispensed by a sow-operated nudge bar, which allows free access to feed 24 hours a day. "This helps promote a high feed intake during lactation. Getting this aspect of production right is vital if you want to achieve high levels of output from your sows," says Tim.

Water intake is also very important and so Tim or his stockmen will half-fill the feed trough with water using a gate valve fitted to each crate.

Around 90 per cent of pre-natal sows are induced to farrow. This technique aids management, helps to reduce stillbirths and ensures a good intake of colostrum. Litters are evened-up within 12 hours of birth - which Tim believes is another factor that boosts weaning weight.

Post weaning

At weaning pigs are penned in groups of 85 in four 9m x 3m pens. The nursery accommodation is fully slatted, apart from a concrete area where the ad lib feeders are positioned. The buildings are cross-flow ventilated and heat is provided by two Pyramid heater panels for the first couple of weeks or as required. Average growth rate from weaning to 10 weeks of age is around 500g a day, and the pigs look well. For the first two weeks post-weaning they are fed a diet containing Zinc and Neomycin to control any digestive upsets. This is the only medicated feed used on the unit.

From here the pigs move on to a solid floor straw-flow house that is divided into three pens of 28 pigs. They stay here for five and half weeks then move into fully slatted wet-fed accommodation. Co-products are used with wheat, barley and soya balancer to produce both finishing and dry sow diets that are formulated by nutritionist Brian Vernon. The wet rations are dispensed by a Big Dutchman feeding system through sensor-controlled feeders.

The first batch of pigs sired by JSR Genetics Titan boars has grown at a very promising 746g a day from weaning to 78kg deadweight. And their average probe of 10.7mm back fat has meant that 88 per cent of finishers are achieving the top grade of less than 12mm.

Changes going forward

Tim has now closed the herd and is using damline Landrace semen on his best-performing sows to produce homebred replacements. Selected gilts are hardened-off in straw yards and fed a grower type diet for a month. Vasectomised boars are used to stimulate maiden gilts and synchronise oestrus. This allows planned integration into the batch system. Any stragglers are given Regumate. Tim is currently considering additional finishing accommodation as the increased output from the breeding herd has meant that nearly 25 per cent of his pigs are currently being sold-off at 30kgs.

By doing the 'basics' very well, taking advice and implementing new technology where appropriate Tim Chapman has maximised the performance on his unit. His philosophy puts him in a strong position where he is well able to compete with his EU counterparts. (1000 words)

Further Information

To read more about PRRS, click here

Courtesy of Jane Jordan - June 2006