Quick phone calls save farmer's bacon

A telephone call to Suffolk pig farmer Simon Watchorn and his swift action to overcome a production problem saved more than £60,000 in the last three years.

A telephone call to Suffolk pig farmer Simon Watchorn and his swift action to overcome a production problem saved more than £60,000 in the last three years.

The call, from an abattoir, warned him that more than 90pc of livers from some consignments of pigs were being condemned because of white spot lesions.

These are caused by the migrating larvae of the large roundworm, Ascaris suum.

Worms can seriously damage an animal's gut and lungs and can have grave welfare and financial consequences.


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Research shows that where liver condemnation levels are just 20pc, reduced average daily liveweight gain alone brings a loss of £2.30 per slaughter pig - and that is for every pig, not just those with white spot.

In the three years since Mr Watchorn changed his worming strategy to overcome the problem the output of his 550-sow outdoor unit in the Waveney Valley after an initial dip, is now up to about 23 pigs per sow per year.

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"Taking an output of 20 pigs a year, that's 33,000 pigs produced over three years, and at £2 a pig saved in improved daily liveweight gain, that's a very welcome addition of more than £60,000," he calculated.

When the alarm bells sounded, a bit of detective work showed that pigs from both the contract finishers were infected.

This led to the problem being identified on his unit at Park Farm, Earsham.

"I have always wormed my breeding herd regularly, so that suggested the infection was coming from the weaners."

"The problem was traced - the nursery kennels were on ground previously used for sows and worm eggs can survive for up to 10 years.

Since then, Mr Watchorn's strategic worming programme - based on the broad spectrum anthelmintic from Janssen Animal Health - includes the treatment of all weaners for two weeks while they are on link feed.

Abattoir returns later showed there was a white spot lesions problem on one of the contract finishing units. "We treated all pigs entering the unit for a time, but when we stopped the problem recurred, and so now we treat all new pigs there with Flubenol for a week.

"Since then only the occasional pig has any sign of white spot."

A number of changes at the unit have contributed to improved output, he said.

Single farrowing pens have been introduced, semen has changed from Large White to include Pietrain and the minimum suckling period has been increased from 21 to 25 days. "This has made a surprising difference to the quality and size of weaners," he said.

"My experience proves the value of keeping a close eye on what abattoir returns from the British Pig Health Scheme can tell you.

"It has certainly helped to improve the quality of my pigs, and that means higher-value carcases."

Faced with higher costs due to the escalating price of feed, Britain's pig producers could save more than £40m per year by a very modest improvements in efficiency.

Improving feed efficiency by 0.1pc would reduce feed consumption by 267,000 tonnes, said a leading pig breeder and genetics expert, Stephen Curtis.

At an average price of £150 per tonne for the 8.9 million pigs finished annually, he told producers at ACMC's headquarters at Driffield, Yorkshire.

Having witnessed the 'near death' of the British pig industry over the last 10 years, producers now had to look at ways of reducing costs to compete.

"Increased costs, mainly on the back of higher world energy prices, are going to hit our industry hard, whether we like it or not," said ACMC's chairman Mr Curtis.

He said that improved genetics could go a long way to reducing costs. An improvement in feed conversion of 0.1pc was worth £1.65 on an 80kg deadweight pig.

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