Research Underpins Sustainable Pig Production

23rd February 2015

Research Underpins Sustainable Pig Production

Sustainability is a word widely used in many different contexts in Agriculture at present. For intensive agriculture it most frequently refers to the environment in terms of emissions, resource management and energy demand. However while the pig research consortium of John Thompson and Sons Ltd, Devenish and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute recognises this definition it also believes sustainability should address the long term ability for pig producers to make a living.

This research consortium was formed 18 years ago and is still going strong. With co-funding from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development a key focus of the work of the group has been to investigate environmental, nutritional and managerial strategies to support the long term growth and profitability of local pig producers. Over the coming months a series of articles will overview the key findings from the research of the consortium which when applied have the ability to influence today’s and tomorrow’s local pig industry.

In its early years the work of the consortium focused on the phosphorus requirements of pigs, as well as the use of phytase in pig diets. As a result of this work, the phosphorus levels in finishing pig diets were lowered across Northern Ireland. Due to this reduction the amount of phosphorus being excreted into the NI eco system from pig production was estimated to be lowered by 83.5 tonne of soluble phosphorus per year.

Staying on the environmental theme, research then focused on the nitrogen requirements of pigs. Again due to the work of the consortium it was realised that the crude protein of grower diets could be reduced from 21 to 19% with no detrimental effect on pig performance. This reduced the nitrogen excretion from NI pig production by 845 tonnes per year.

More recently the topic of crude protein and amino acid requirements for finishing pigs has been revisited. The results from this latter work were used to inform the EU and DARD about the actual excretion of nitrogen from pigs. The data was accepted by the EU and DARD and the Nitrates Action Plan in 2009 was revised to reflect the new lower Nitrogen excretion values from pigs. These revised values ultimately lead to a 20% reduction in the amount of land required to spread pig slurry based on nitrogen calculations. Ongoing work in this area continues to look at strategies, nutritional or otherwise to assist pig producers to comply with current environmental legislative requirements and to plan for growth into the future.

From a nutritional perspective, the group have investigated the use of various alternative raw materials to supply energy and protein in the diet. Early work looked at diets where vegetable oil partially replaced cereal to supply energy. This work highlighted the pros and cons of oil based by-product diets compared with cereal based diets and overall offered an alternative dietary composition when cereals costs are extremely high. Recent work in this area has focused on alternative protein sources such as rapeseed meal and dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS).

With regard to managerial aspects the group have undertaken two large ‘on farm’ trials to quantity the variation in growth rate of pigs both within and between farms as well as the difference in feed use efficiency between and within units. This work has found that variation in pig growth rate within and between pig farms is vast and economically worth £7 per pig. With regard to the variation in feed use efficiency, again a difference of at least 0.34 FCR units exists driving a difference in profitability of at least £8.80 per pig (80kg carcass).

Over the years optimising feed use efficiency and the cost of production has been a key target of the group. So much so that Devenish and AFBI invested in the purchase of a unique research facility which could measure the individual intake of pigs in a group situation. This facility has aided the identification of how feed use efficiency can vary between animals and has also helped understand the feeding behaviour of pigs, especially when offered diets with varying raw materials.

Over the coming weeks, a series of articles will report the new knowledge and findings arising from the work of the consortium but you are encouraged to contact your local Thompsons or Devenish representative for more information.

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