In depth: Improvements in GB sow productivity accelerate
In 2017, the latest figures from Agrosoft indicate that GB sow herd productivity improved significantly. The average number of pigs weaned per sow per year reached 25.8 in the 12 months to December, an increase of 0.9 compared with the previous year. This is well above the average annual improvement of 0.5 recorded over the previous five years. The improvements are particularly encouraging considering the increasing focus on reducing antibiotic usage.
Both the indoor and outdoor herd recorded increasing sow productivity. For indoor herds, the average number of pigs weaned per sow per year reached 27.0, an increase of 0.7 compared with the previous year. While the outdoor herd remained less productive, the increase in pigs weaned per sow was larger at 1.2. This meant the outdoor average reached 24.0 pigs weaned per sow per year. This is now the second consecutive year improvement in the outdoor breeding herd has outpaced that for indoor sows, having previously been lagging behind.
Growth in the number of pigs born alive per litter was the primary driver of improvement in the number of pigs weaned per sow for both indoor and outdoor herds. Both herds also recorded a small increase in the average number of litters per sow per year. A reduction in pre-weaning mortality enabled the improvement in outdoor herd performance to outpace that for indoor production. At 13.1%, the average pre-weaning mortality for the outdoor herd was the lowest since 2012. In contrast, figures for the indoor herd worsened slightly, to average 12% for the year.
Interestingly, outdoor breeding herds also recorded improvement in terms of inputs last year. Feed consumed by each outdoor sow reduced by an average of 112kg compared to 2016 levels, despite higher weaning rates. In contrast, indoor sow feed consumption actually increased by 34kg, although on a per weaned pig basis it was stable. This meant the difference between indoor and outdoor sow feed consumption almost halved, to 164kg. When combined with the increase in piglets weaned, this meant sow feed costs per weaned pig were less than £3 more for outdoor sows last year, compared to a difference of around £4 in 2016.
In contrast, the performance trends for the rearing and finishing herds were less positive in 2017. In particular, feed was converted less efficiently in both cases. The Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) for rearing increased from 1.70 in 2016 to 1.77 in 2017. However, the extra feed did boost the daily weight gain by over 30g. Meanwhile, the finishing FCR increased by 0.21 to 2.86. In this case daily weight gains also fell by around 17g, which may be related to slaughtering at heavier weights. Nonetheless, overall these changes meant around 17kg more feed was used per pig last year, contributing to higher feed costs.
Despite the improvements to the performance of the breeding herd, GB producers still remain behind their main EU competitors according to figures from the InterPig group. The EU average during 2016 was 27.53 pigs weaned per sow per year, largely due to the number of piglets born alive per litter being above the GB average, at 13.8. The importance of driving productivity growth, to boost the competitive position of the British agricultural sector, was highlighted in a recent AHDB Horizon report. Information which may help improve performance is available on the pig production section of the AHDB pork website.
For more detail on physical performance trends in 2017, including key performance indicators for all herd types, click here.
Bethan Wilkins, Analyst
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