7 ways automation can improve pork production
Pork producers in Western Europe and North America are finding success raising pigs in group housing systems with electronic identification for individual management. Do you want to improve efficiency and performance on your operation?
Here are seven reasons why the group housing trend is exploding worldwide and how you can benefit from adding automated systems to your group housing plan.
Make the most of modern genetics
The difference in performance between heritage breeds and modern pig genetics has become so wide that the use of the latter has become an obvious choice for many pig farm managers. And the gap is widening. The performance potential of the modern sow has moved above 30 pigs per sow per year. However, this is putting pressure on the sow’s body development and condition. The way we care for sows can mean the difference between profitable piglet production or losing money. Research shows how group housing supports optimal body condition by making the sow comfortable and giving her room to exercise and how this supports performance.
Group sow housing supports healthy pigs
Research by Dr. Mark Knauer at North Carolina State University showed a strong correlation between sow body condition at breeding and the number of piglets born alive. The difference in performance between good and poor body condition can add up to more than 2.5 piglets per sow per year. Litter birth weight also declines sharply with sows in suboptimal body condition. Lower birth weights go on to negatively influence survival rate and lifetime pig performance. Group sow housing with ESF allows producers to accurately manage sow body condition by feeding each sow to her individual needs and preventing feed theft by aggressive sows.
Being able to feed sows accurately according to their bodyweight, parity and stage of gestation assures they are in the best possible body condition when entering the farrowing facility [reference: De Heus]
Weight loss during lactation is influenced by the body condition of the sow at farrowing and the feed intake during lactation. Feed intake, or rather the shape of the feed plan in lactation, is a search for balance. We want to maximize feed intake quickly to support milk production. At the same time, it is important to prevent overfeeding, which could reduce feed intake dramatically and stop milk production. The below graph shows three feed intake patterns.
Two of them increase too quickly. The pink line shows the dangers of overfeeding, and the blue line shows a severe case of overfeeding around 10 days of lactation. The yellow line shows an ideal curve, bringing feed intake to a higher peak and supporting higher overall feed intake during lactation. This feeding pattern will help maximize milk production and minimize excess loss of body condition. (Reference: Koketsu et al. 1996a,b)
This level of variation is seen in finisher pigs everywhere but is seldom recognized or managed. There is an explanation for this. To manage something in an optimized way, you need data to make smart decisions. In this case, you would need to measure individual weights of finisher pigs. But weighing large numbers of finisher pigs individually and regularly is not a very attractive idea. And what is the point in taking a sample if the distribution is as wide as shown?
The above conclusions show a large benefit in managing pigs individually. That could justify the tendency to house pigs individually or, at least in as small groups as would be economically feasible.
But here is the challenge: A decreasing number of knowledgeable farm managers are tasked with taking care of an increasing number of animals.
And that is what modern pig housing concepts should do: Perform individual management, monitor individual response and allow you to review and adapt to your pigs’ responses. In a facility with individually housed pigs, that investment would be required for every single pig.
However, by using automation, a group of animals can use one system, helping us to be efficient.
It is true that the introduction of group housing systems has been in some cases catalyzed by welfare regulations and consumer demands. But the results on the farms that have moved to these housing systems in combination with automated individual management show that this forced change was a blessing in disguise when it comes to supporting the performance of modern pig genetics.
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