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Spanish Integrator Looks Beyond 2013

21 September 2012, at 12:00am

Stuart Lumb reports on a visit to a large integrator in Spain, where loose housing and electronic sow feeders have already been installed for some years - with success. Up to half of the country's producers are thought to be preparing to leave pig production when the EU partial ban on sow stalls comes into effect in January 2013.

Spain has a huge pig herd but what will happen to it when the EU partial stall ban in 2013 arrives is anyone's guess. Veterinarian Miguel Cachafeiro, JSR Genetics' key agent in Spain, is under no illusions. He said: "Only 55 per cent of Spanish breeders will put in loose housing by 2013, with the other 45 per cent either just going into finishing, selling out to big companies or just simply going out of pigs altogether. This will mean a massive drop in breeding stock numbers, if this should happen."

It is said that concerns about pig welfare decrease as we move south through Europe and northern Europeans suggest, perhaps unfairly, that a country where bull fighting is still legal in some regions can have little interest in animal welfare. It is extremely difficult to get precise estimates of how many Spanish producers have so far converted to group-housing their pregnant sows to meet the demands of the new legislation. It is also fair to say that Spain was hoping for a derogation on the partial stall ban but, fortunately for European producers who have and who are building group housing systems, the EU has stood firm and the partial stall ban will become law on 1 January 2013.


Loose-housed pregnant sows

The current unfortunate state of the Spanish economy is not helping things in terms of obtaining credit but producers were given 12 years notice of the partial stall ban and hence, it can be argued that money should have been set aside in previous profitable years to fund the changes. Spain has many large agri-businesses, which may be in a better position than small family pig operations in terms of making the changes necessary to stay in business after the end of this year.

One such company is Uvesa. The company was started in 1964 by a group of vets and is based in Tuleda, which is located between Zaragoza and San Sebastian. Uvesa has 45,000 sows and also is involved in feed, poultry and processing, with JSR Genetics supplying breeding stock to the company. The unit we visited was near Zaragoza and this involved a four-hour journey by road. It is easy to forget what a huge country Spain is and how arid and sparsely populated parts of it are - unlike England. Hence, finding isolated locations to site units is not difficult plus the chances of smells upsetting the locals is extremely unlikely. Whilst driving to get to the farm, it was very interesting to observe large numbers of wind farms and also several solar farms – massive arrays of mirrors which tilt and rotate, tracking the sun.


Pig unit team in discussion with vet, Miguel Cachafeiro (2nd left)

We finally arrived at the unit, which is about eight kilometres from the nearest house, so biosecurity is not a problem. The unit was built in 2010 and was very tidy. Following a shower in a large shower block, we met the unit manager, the unit vet and finally the Uvesa's managing director.

The farm is stocked with 35 great grandparents (GGPs), 45 grandparents (GPs) and 2200 Genepacker F1s. Genepacker Large White (LW) and Landrace semen is used on the Genepacker LW females to produce replacements, with Genepacker 750 semen being used to inseminate the F1s to produce the slaughter generation.

The unit staff – 10 in all – hailed from all over the world: Spain, Rumania, Bulgaria and even Africa. This is a a multinational mix but not unusual these days.

Pig health was fine, breeding stock, being PRRS-negative and EPP is not a problem. Regarding PCV2, only the piglets are vaccinated, at three weeks of age. To control internal parasites, all the breeding stock are wormed twice a year by means of an in-feed wormer. Most of the feed is made by Uvesa, although some is bought from specialist compounders.

A feature of the unit's construction is the passages linking the various buildings. Like many units these days, the passages were totally enclosed. These are quite high to help cooling in the hot Spanish summers, but are fitted with false ceilings to retain the heat in winter as, at that time of year, the temperature can drop to -5°C.

Sow and Litter Management

Uvesca is proud of the fact that the unit is 2013-compliant and they proudly showed us the huge dry house containing the loose-housed pregnant sows. Twenty-eight days after service, sows are moved out of the stalls and mixed into groups of 80, in large yards.

Uvesa management opted for an electronic sow feeding (ESF) system and chose Austrian company, Schauer, which has had ESFs on the market for many years, to provide the feed stations. The sows can feed 22 hours per day and they all looked in excellent condition, with no scratches or wounds (as a result of fighting) or bitten vulvas.

Back in the late 1980s, when ESF systems were in their infancy, pens were often rectangular, with long continuous walls. Because batch numbers were smaller, sows tended to be in dynamic groups, i.e. they were continually being mixed and fighting was inevitable, although this was minimised by running a big boar in the group to act as a 'policeman' and putting big straw bales in bedded systems, behind which timid sows could hide. Nowadays, the groups are static, i.e. the same sows stay in the same groups right from going on to the ESFs up to the time they are moved into the farrowing pens. This results in far fewer behavioural problems. In addition, pens now incorporate a number of stub walls for timid sows to hide behind.

Pregnant sows are moved into one of 18 farrowing rooms, each of which contains 28 pens. Sows farrow on a weekly basis and shredded newspaper is used as bedding when the sows farrow. Heat pads attract the piglets away from the sow, with hot water coming from a boiler heated with wood chips.


Weaner accommodation

Piglets' teeth are not clipped although tails are docked plus piglets receive a 2-ml iron injection at three days of age.

The lactation diet contains 0.8 per cent lysine and sows are fed up to a maximum of 10kg via an automatic feed system, three or four times per day. Creep feed contains 1.5 pe cent lysine and is from seven days of age. Seventy per cent of the male pigs are left entire. These entire boars have a blue ear tag; gilts receive a yellow one, making split-sexing at weaning a straightforward operation. Thursday is weaning day, with 112 sows and gilts being moved into stalls in the service house. Sows are served on average two to 2.5 times, using deep insemination, while gilts are inseminated traditionally with a single catheter. Semen is delivered to the unit on Tuesdays and Thursdays by courier.

Unit performance

  • Pigs born alive/litter = 13.5
  • Pigs weaned/litter = 11.5
  • Pigs weaned/sow/year = 26.5
  • FCR (20-110kg) = 2.5-2.6

Performance is top class at Uvesa and credit is deserved by all concerned, writes Mr Lumb, as working with loose-housed sows is much harder and takes much more stockmanship compared to stalls – as many stockpeople in continental Europe will be finding out as they get to grips with managing group housed pregnant sows.


External view of the farm buildings


September 2012