How CRC sees PPPE – Roger Campbell

Pan Pacific Pork Expo (PPPE) 2014 set a record for attendance (576), ran very smoothly, encouraged healthy debate and provided a valuable forum for interchange, particularly between producers, researchers and industry.

I modestly congratulate the organising committee, of which I was Pork CRC’s representative, and sponsors and delegates for again supporting this important biennial event.

The mood among producers was much more optimistic than in 2012 and for good reason. We are certainly making good progress differentiating our industry and our pork and the plenary presentations from producers Tim Kingma and Kenton Shaw certainly outlined where they saw the greatest opportunities. Andrew Spencer similarly outlined the basis of APL’s strategic plan for the next five years, with more emphasis on what you might term higher end export markets.

The three concurrent sessions covered Pork CRC research in sow housing, eating quality of Australian pork and carbon reduction, the latter particularly emphasising how to make more from manure.

Catch up

In sow housing, Paul Hemsworth outlined where we’re at with housing gestating sows in groups, while Paul Hughes covered alternative lactation systems. I can say the researchers have caught up with industry in respect to the management and nutrition of group housed sows and there seems to be some take-home messages to making group housing work.

The most interesting finding is that sows, whether grouped at weaning or after mating, adjust quite rapidly (within days) to mixing/grouping and reduced available floor space. However, based on measuring cortisol levels and observing injuries, their welfare is compromised during this period.

The impact of mixing on welfare can be reduced by:

  1.  Providing sows during the period immediately after grouping with more space and good quality space i.e. with barriers and/or shoulder or full body stalls. However, as I said, the amount of space can be reduced once sows have sorted their dominance order and we know from commercial experience that 1.8-2.0 square metres of  ‘good quality’ floor space appears adequate for welfare and reproduction. We keenly await a final Pork CRC report from Paul Hemsworth of a study looking at the effect of floor space between 1.45 and 2.9 square metres on welfare and reproduction – let’s see what these results tell us.
  2. Providing sows with ample feed immediately after mixing and feeding at a higher level (2.7 kg/d) for the first 28 days of gestation. The former reduces aggression immediately after mixing and the latter improves reproduction, especially in younger sows.
  3. Grouping parity one sows with gilts, rather than older sows.
  4. Good stockmanship – I know this is a given with Australian pork production, but it is particularly important with group housed sows.

Of lesser importance is group size and whether sows are housed in dynamic or static groups.

Familiar territory

Although we’ve not specifically investigated how, or even if, familiarity impacts aggressiveness or welfare of sows at grouping, there is evidence that sows remember their pen mates for some six weeks and you’d expect that the ‘problems’ experienced at mixing  and grouping would decline as sows became comfortable with the system and more familiar with those they are mixed with. So, the future looks good and I think this was clearly demonstrated by the results of Jean–Loup Rault, who showed that providing things are done correctly (adequate space and feed) excellent reproduction can be achieved with sows weaned into groups or stalls and grouped within six days of weaning. Much interest remains in the subject, but it is largely sorted out. We have now moved to looking at satiety and enrichment with group housed sows.

Smith theory

One thing we haven’t tried (not sure why) is grouping sows at weaning and mating them in stalls and then regrouping. The system was advocated by innovative Victorian pork Tom Smith at the PPPE sow housing sessions and makes sense, given the sows would be familiar with each other when regrouped after mating, thus reducing aggression and stress during this crucial period of reproduction (shortly after mating).

Greater challenge

Alternative lactation systems are a different matter, but it was obvious at PPPE that quite a few producers have installed systems such as the SWAP pen, the PIG SAFE pen and even the 360 degree pen, which I saw for the first time at the Stockyard stand at PPPE. The latter is one of the few alternatives with a similar footprint as conventional farrowing crates, so it will be interesting to see how they perform commercially. Pork CRC research to date shows these alternative systems generally don’t work, requiring considerable adjustment and modification and even then resulting in higher piglet mortality, generally taking up a lot of space and are considerably more costly than conventional crates. We are trying to develop a farrowing system index which accounts for the impact on the sow, the piglet and the producer. The producer aspect of the index will likely be based on dollars. In addition to the cost of the pen and extra space required for most of the alternatives, it will also consider the greater cleaning and occupational health and safety issues associated with some of the alternative systems.

Our research has also moved from comparing different systems (although admittedly important for those installing such systems) to better defining the welfare implications for the sow, especially in conventional crates – is it compromised and how might it be enhanced?

Bottom line is there is a long way to go, but it’s important good research be conducted so we can keep ahead of the curve in an area of production that will likely continue to come under pressure.

Biogas business

On carbon reduction there seems to be and certainly seemed to be at PPPE a lot more interest in Biogas. Pork CRC Research Fellow and leader of our Bioenergy Support Program, Stephan Tait, was very much in demand. Look elsewhere in this issue of APN for Stephen’s latest ‘It’s a gas’ column, which this month covers the very important safety aspects of handling biogas on-farm.

Cutting remarks

On eating quality, Pork CRC research has demonstrated that there are pork cuts, particularly the loin and silver side roast that consumers don’t particularly like. Based on an eating quality ranking from 1 to 5 (terrible to excellent) we (the researchers) consider pork that is ranked as 1 or 2 in consumer taste panels as having failed (not liked and not likely to result in repurchasing pork). In four studies across a number of supply chains, the fail rate for loin and silver side roast has been consistently high and reached 36% in one study. Eating quality is affected by many factors, including the sex of the pig, the cut, how long it is aged, cooking temperature and many other factors – but in the end it may be ultimate pH (measured 72 hours after slaughter) that is causing the problem.

Eating out

A recent study by Cameron Jose, a Pork CRC Postdoc with DAFWA, looked at the effect on eating quality of loins with low (5.31-5.49) and normal (5.49-5.69) pH and found the average fail rate was 21%.The good news is that 38% of the loins were rated by consumers as above average or excellent (ranked as a 4 or 5). Still, a fail rate of 21% is too high and the objective of our researchers is to reduce the fail rate to 10% or less.

The impact ultimate pH, which appears to be declining across the industry, can have on eating quality is shown in Figure 1 which compares the percentage of loins from female and intact male pigs ranked as premium (score 4 or 5) by consumer taste panels across two supply chains (SC 1 and SC 2).

1406 Figure

Figure –effect of ultimate pH (low and normal) of the loin on the percentage of loins from female and male pigs across two supply chains (SC 1 and SC 2) ranked by consumers as premium eating quality.

For SC 1 fail rates for loins from female pigs with low and normal pH were 22.5% and only 10%, respectively. However, the change in fail rate was not consistent across the sexes or supply chains, with the move upwards (between low and normal pH) in some, from average (ranking 3) to the premium grades with little change in fail rate.

Eating quality was also related to tenderness and ultimate pH to muscle glycogen level at slaughter, so some clues maybe on how ultimate pH might be increased.

Improving eating quality goes hand-in-hand with differentiating Australian pork and reducing fail rate to 10% and/or being able to predict eating quality and grading pork accordingly has been calculated to have a marked effect on demand and reflect in the price received by producers.

The project is being led by Heather Channon and Frank Dunshea at University of Melbourne. They are making good progress and are now analysing a project involving processing interventions across three supply chains. It is a challenge, but with great rewards for industry and the supply chain, from processors to retailers, is very interested and involved.

I will keep you updated.

Thoughtful thinking  

I see a lot of results from large scale grower and finisher experiments generally conducted in systems with automatic feeding devices such as Feed Logic and over the past couple of years the feed: gain values reported are consistently around 2.1 for growers (30-60 kg) and around 2.5 for finishers. Most of these values were for females, so would be even lower if males and Improvac males sold within two to three weeks of receiving the second vaccination were included.

My thought is that for herds selling only 20 pigs per sow/year, these figures equate to a HFC between 3.2 and 3.4. In the Pork CRC benchmarking project the average HFC is 3.9 and it has been stuck there for the past three years. We do, however, have two or three producers reporting values between 3.3 and 3.4, so we have the pigs and some have the other things right, but the question is why aren’t more achieving the efficiencies our pigs are obviously capable of?

Cold comfort

I don’t think it is the diets as such, as we know how modern genetics should be fed and our research nutritionists have consistently demonstrated this. It is likely related to feed waste, shedding or environment and probably the fact that pigs are below their thermo neutral zone through the colder months of the year and outside their thermo neutral zone most of the year. Disease and immune challenge also probably contribute to the higher than expected HFC values across the industry.

Feeling better

I don’t think we need any new technology to improve HFC, but we do need a better feel for the major factors contributing to inefficient feed use in commercial grower and finisher pigs. Pork CRC has projects on reducing immune challenge in commercial situations, on the impact of the common diseases on feed efficiency under commercial situations and on grain processing on feed efficiency. We have never been able to get a reliable estimate of feed wastage, but APL is trying a new approach (across different herds) using PIG BAL. The outcomes will be interesting, but there is a lot of money left on the table and given our diet costs are not likely to decline in the near future, considerable effort directed at defining the gap is warranted.

In the next column I will update you on some recent outcomes on grain processing assessed under commercial situations – it is something we need to seriously consider and account for.

Student uprising

Speaking of the future, I must briefly refer to our enthusiastic, bright group of students who showcased their studies and projects at the student workshop, the day before PPPE and concluded it with a well deserved dinner and social gathering that same evening. Well done to all of you and may you continue to establish positive career paths within the pork industry, because it needs you and values you. Elsewhere in this issue of APN is some coverage of the students involved at PPPE.

First published in APN June 2014

Return to Home Page