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Newspaper Article Focusing on Various Requirements for Swine Production on a Large Scale

PART 1

INTRODUCTION

Swine production has declined dramatically in Ukraine over the past eight years. Whereas the country produced nearly 20 million pigs in 1990, by 1998 this figure had been sliced nearly in half. Numerous meat-processing plants stand idle and others do not operate at all because of the shortage of raw materials, at the same that increasing amounts of pork are being imported. Yet this situation, when demand dramatically exceeds supply, also presents aggressive entrepreneurs with a lucrative opportunity. By going into swine production or expanding current hog operations, many farmers hope to improve the profitability of their operations.

This increased interest in swine production makes it more important than ever that those who decide to raise hogs do so as efficiently as possible. While various general economic factors have contributed to the decline in hog production in Ukraine, the fact remains that most operations are being run much less efficiently than is typical in the West. Raising a pig to market weight there takes about six months - about half the time usually required in Ukraine. This does not have to be the case, however. Last December I visited the Kyiv-Atlantic swine raising operation outside of Kyiv, where over 400 pigs are gaining nearly 1000 grams gain per day - dramatically more than the nationwide average. There is no reason that other domestic operations can't achieve the same results.

Having spent the past several years working with farmers in Ukraine and Russia, it is clear to me that, first of all, there need to be some serious changes, above all in nutrition. Housing also needs to be improved. Additional attention must be devoted to breeding, as well as veterinary care and prevention. If these needs are properly addressed, Ukraine - with its lower production costs - will be well placed to compete with Western pork producers.

Last fall I contributed an article to this newspaper outlining some of the general challenges to the livestock industry in Ukraine. In this and the next three issues of Svit I will focus on some specific changes that pig producers must address if local producers truly want to take their industry to a world-class level. While some of the following recommendations have been made with large operations in mind, and may not necessarily be within the means of smaller ones, what is most important is to keep the basic principles in mind. If it is clear why the recommendations are being made, then that should be a good starting point from which to come up with individually-tailored ways to address each particular issue.

HOUSING

Good ventilation is of prime importance. The reason for this is that excessive ammonia levels in the air can cause respiratory problems in pigs and also affect their immune systems, making them more susceptible to disease. Ammonia is released into the air through manure. In addition to ammonia having a distinctive smell, excessive concentrations of it cause a burning sensation in one's eyes. It is good to remember that the concentrations are greater closer to the ground, where pigs breathe, than at human eye level, so if after spending a few minutes in the barn there is a burning sensation in your eyes, it is safe to say that the pigs are suffering even more.

To prevent or to solve this problem, it is important to provide ventilation without causing drafts on the pigs. Air exhaust systems, for example, can be used to remove moisture and ammonia-laden air from barns through ceiling or other vents. Outside air should enter through the windows and exit through the roof vents. Fans adequate to exchange the correct amount of air can be installed. Windows should have glass in them and be made adjustable to regulate the amount of air intake. A wooden or metal reflector installed on the inside of the window can direct the incoming air so that it won't blow on the pigs. Do not seal the barn as that prevents the entry of fresh air and the removal of ammonia and moisture. Adequate air circulation (good air in and bad air out) becomes more important as animal numbers go up.

Pigs will choose to stay clean if given a chance. Having feed and water available at or near the grates in the floor over the gutter will help keep the bedding area dry. The non-grated areas of the pen should be sealed with concrete or some other surface sealer so that the pen can be cleaned and sanitized with a minimum of manure and microbial build-up.

Feeding facilities should ensure that feed arrives in front of the pig in a sanitary state with a minimum of feed wastage. Feed troughs should be built with curbs high enough to prevent feed wastage and outside contamination and smooth enough so as not to harbor microorganisms from feed spoilage. Fencing should be installed so that pigs can stick only their heads into the feed trough and not their feet. It should also be constructed to discourage a pig from backing up to the trough and urinating or defecating into the feeding area. This could be accomplished by the strategic placement of a horizontal board that allowed the pig to stick in its "eating end" and not its "defecating end."

The feed trough should have steel rods perpendicular to the pig's head (running across the feed trough from one side to the other) to prevent the pig from routing out feed and wasting it. Since one feeding trough can feed two pens that are opposite each other, a triangular structure ("roof-like" made by nailing two boards at right angles to each other) that runs the length of the feeding trough can be installed. This would limit the volume of feed in front of the pigs without "dead" spaces and help keep the feed fresh. The curb over which the pig sticks its head should angle into the feed trough so that dead feed spaces are avoided that would accumulate moist and putrefying feed.

Some way of cleaning the feeding trough area should be considered. If there isn't a lot of feed in the trough at one time and neither manure nor urine nor external water can gain entry, cleaning the feed trough shouldn't be much of a problem. It may be necessary to wash and sanitize the feed trough between groups of pigs and if so, the liquid in the troughs should flow naturally to one end where the water can run into the gutter system.

Ease of moving pigs should be considered in the design of barns including the final walk of the pigs to the truck to take them to market. Loading chutes should be secure for the pig and placed so that it is convenient for a truck to back up to them. Reducing the stress of loading pigs will reduce the shrink and cut the death rate due to overly stressed pigs. Carcass damage that will show up in the packing plant and reduce the value of the carcass would also be reduced.

MANURE HANDLING SYSTEM

Because of the dangers of spreading disease that manure creates, it is important to keep pens as free from manure as possible. An efficient, mechanized manure handling facility is very important for a large operation. Work out a preventive maintenance program for the machinery to minimize downtime problems. I can't think of a bigger headache than a broken down manure handling system being flooded by the wastes from numerous pigs.

Large operations should also have a manure lagoon equipped with agitators. Some attention to ration formulation as it affects the lagoon and manure quality should be done. For example, feeding high levels of copper (200 ppm) in the ration for antibacterial activity in the pigs can also kill off the lagoon microorganisms. Good management of the lagoon is a science and should be done to minimize odors and to maximize the nutrient benefits of hog waste.

There should be a plan in place for moving the material in the hog manure lagoon to the fields for fertilization. This plant nutrient asset should be managed for optimum utilization in the growing of crops (grain that will probably be fed back to the pigs). Is there enough storage capacity in the lagoon to contain the hog effluent between applications? Is it possible to apply manure to the fields in the wintertime? You want manure to enter the soil and not run off it. When the soil is completely saturated with water, there is no room for manure and it will run off and possibly pollute other areas. The same is true if the soil is covered by a sheet of ice. My observation in the L'viv area during last winter was that the soil was fairly dry (it was being plowed easily) and that if the soil surface is not frozen, there is manure handling capacity. This can be calculated and the appropriate amount of manure can be applied, based on the absorption capacity.

Will the lagoon effluent be pumped or hauled to the fields? Will it be drilled into the soil or applied to the surface. Do people live nearby that will be offended by the odors? Is there enough land available for the anticipated manure or will the fields of others be needed? For what price can the lagoon contents be sold to neighbors? These are all questions that the pork producer needs to address. In addition, soil tests need to be run periodically to monitor soil nutrient content to optimize nutrient use by growing plants. Manure is a very important asset and should be used wisely.

Most of the hog wastes should fall through the grates of the pen. Once a day an attendant may need to scrape manure from the solid floor area onto and through the grates. If the surface area remains dry, scraping may not be necessary at all. If designed properly, the floor is sloped and liquid will run towards the grates and fall into the manure gutter. Normal hog foot traffic may facilitate the movement of solids towards the gutter and negate the need for periodic scraping.

Water can be used to clean floors and gutters but this fills up the lagoon and increases the weight of material that needs to be transported to the fields, so water usage should be kept to a minimum. Leaking water sources can also add unnecessary water to the manure system.

PART 2 - FEEDING AND WATERING SYSTEMS

WATER SUPPLY

Providing pigs with a constant water supply is very important, because when water is not available, pigs stop eating and growing. For a large operation, I'd suggest two "Lixit" type water nozzles per pen. These should be positioned over the grates above the manure gutter so that any leakage goes into the pit and not on to the floor where the pigs will rest. This will encourage the pigs to keep the flat surfaces of the pen clean and dry by not defecating and urinating except over the grated surfaces. Taking precautions to keep the water pipes from freezing is of course important. A valve appropriately located in the water system should be in place so that water can be shut off if a nozzle needs to be replaced. Nozzles should be checked routinely to be sure there is water available to the pigs at all time.

It is best to have two water nozzles per pen to increase the probability of at least one working. A temperature substantially above freezing will encourage water consumption and therefore increase free-choice feed intake, resulting in more rapid and efficient gain. The drinking water should be evaluated for mineral content and of course be free of toxic or biological contaminants.

FEEDING BASICS

Since feed costs represent 80% of the cost of raising pigs, particular attention should be paid to the formulation, mixing and delivery of nutritionally adequate rations for each stage in the life of the pig.

All feed should be fed dry rather than mixing it with water. I have seen some swine raising facilities in Ukraine where the only water source was from wet feed. This is not a good management technique, because it is likely to reduce animal rate and efficiency of gain. Pigs should not have to eat in order to intake water, since then they may consume less of both than they need. Also, wet feed not consumed can deteriorate quickly, particularly in warm weather, causing an animal health concern.

Cooking the feed is not cost-effective. Cooking is being done on some small hog operations that I have seen, but it should not be considered for any size of operation.

The fineness of grind of grains is important for pigs. A finer grind will increase feed utilization and reduce the amount of feed required. There is some concern about stomach ulcers with really fine ground feed but feeding a few ground oats will usually prevent this problem. The higher the fiber level of the ration the more benefit from pelleting swine feeds. Creep and pre-starter rations will need to be purchased from facilities with pellet making capability if you do not have pelleting facilities of your own, but the other rations can be fed in meal form.

Pigs should NEVER be without feed or they may resort to cannibalism such as tail and ear biting. They of course won't grow if they don't eat feed. To repeat, adequate clean fresh water also must be available at all times as pigs won't eat if there is no water.

The kind and amount of feed delivered should be recorded so that feed intake can be determined. Comparing feed intake with animal growth will show the rate and efficiency of gain (kg of feed per kg of gain). These measurements are important to determine ration adequacy, to do cost accounting and to guard against unauthorized allocation of feed to animals other than those owned by the owner. Stealing of feed and other supplies is endemic on collective farms and must end when a facility is privatized. Each barn should have a scale for weighing pigs to determine the growth rate and to identify problems early before bigger problems develop.

PART 3 - FEED FORMULATION

Proper feed formulation should supply adequate nutrients to support optimum growth without wasting expensive nutrients. After determining the age/weight groupings, feeds should be formulated to meet the nutrient requirements of each group. The minimum number of separate rations suggested are:

  • Boar and Gestation
  • Lactation
  • Baby pig creep (probably a purchased pellet) - fed to pigs of 5 to 10 kg body weight
  • Pre-starter - fed from 10 to 20 kg body weight
  • Starter - fed from 20 to 35 kg body weight
  • Grower - fed from 35 to 55 body weight
  • Finisher - fed from 55 kg to market. This may be broken into two finisher rations fed to pigs from 55 to 80 kg and 80 kg to market.

    ROY: Here why don't you create a table above showing the weights at which the different rations are used respectively? DAVID: Is the above OK. In the paper on PigBasics for beginners I go into this in considerable detail so that could be an additional article - or several since it is 15 pages long.

    It is desirable to feed barrows and gilts separately, particularly boars and gilts being saved for the breeding herd. With a large operation, a number of different and specific feed rations (including more than one grower and one finisher ration with more than one level of protein) should be used to optimize animal and economic performance.

    The objective is to meet the animal's nutrient requirements without wasting nutrients. As barrows and gilts mature, their requirement for protein decreases. Feeding rations of decreasing protein levels (and lower levels of some other nutrients) as the animals mature will save money without sacrificing animal performance. Keeping the protein level higher than that needed for maximum growth will produce a carcass with a higher percentage of lean in relation to fat. If these hog carcasses will be processed and sold by the producer's own meat plant, there may be an economic advantage to keeping the protein levels (particularly the amino acid lysine) higher than that needed for maximum growth. Measuring the carcass quality and relating it to the feeding regime should be standard operating procedure if economical improvements in carcass quality are to be obtained.

    Farrowing and weaning are particularly critical times in the life of a pig. Formulating rations and using management techniques that reduce pig loss and allow early weaning with a minimum of set-back or time of slow growth for the weaner pig is important. Early weaning reduces weight loss of the sow, helping to get her bred and farrowing sooner.

    In order to design and formulate a complete feeding program a computer program can be used. The computer program can then use this information to maximize nutritional values of a ration for the minimum price. To do this, the nutritionist needs to know the:

    1. Feedstuffs (ingredients) available,
    2. Nutrient levels in each ingredient
    3. Ingredient costs.

    Some feeds commonly fed in Ukraine should be reduced or eliminated from the diet. I'm thinking particularly of beet pulp, wheat mill run and other low energy feeds. The concept of "energy density" is important. A pig has a finite ability to eat feed. When a feed is low in energy, the pig cannot eat enough more of it to compensate in order to obtain adequate calories for high production.

    Particular care must be taken if wheat mill run is fed as it contains ten times as much phosphorus as calcium. If there is not enough supplemental calcium fed so that ration calcium levels equal or surpass the phosphorus level of the diet, animal bone growth and animal growth in general will be impaired.

    The calories in feed are used to satisfy the maintenance requirement of the pig first. Only energy consumed above the maintenance requirement is available for productive energy (in our case weight gain). When the energy density of the ration is low (due to the inclusion of low energy ingredients such as beet pulp and wheat bran), the pig can't eat an adequate weight or volume of feed to supply enough calories for optimum gain. With caloric intake limited, weight gain is also limited to the amount of calories consumed above the maintenance requirement. It is therefore important to feed high energy-dense feeds such as wheat and corn rather than beet pulp, wheat bran and even much barley and oats if rapid rates of gain and high feed efficiency are desired.

    For even higher energy density you can add animal fat to the feed, but this is usually not cost effective. Oils should not be fed to swine, as the characteristics of the fat consumed become the characteristics of the stored body fat, making the body fat becomes soft and greasy when the meat is cooked and, besides being unattractive, may have unpleasant odors and flavors. Essential fatty acids (linoleic, linolenic and arachidonic) containing the correct balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are required.

    It makes sense to formulate the vitamin-mineral premix packages yourself. In other words, to use a computer program to formulate a least-cost ration for each of the above seven or more animal groups including vitamins and minerals. Any medications included in the feed should be done in coordination with a veterinarian. This is a major effort and one that is continuing as the relative price of the available feedstuffs can be expected to change, necessitating new ration formulations in order to realize least cost rations.

    Because of their low cost, locally-available foodstuffs can be used. However, certain ingredients such as vitamins and minerals may not be available locally. While Polish and German suppliers can provide premixes, I think it would be smart to present various premix manufacturers with your own premix formula, let them bid on it and feed the premix that will make you the most money. With premixes, it is particularly critical that what is formulated for them to contain is actually in them, so you need to work with someone you trust.

    It might be possible to mix the vitamin-mineral premixes locally but this should be attempted only after the other feed manufacturing requirements have been satisfied. It is too easy to be out of one micro ingredient, mixing requirements are precise and improper mixing could result in feeds that don't support optimum growth or that could be toxic to animals or even to the final consumers of the meat.

    I would recommend that some ration experimentation be done on a continual basis to search for economic improvements. While canola meal is expected to be the cheapest protein source available, there are limits to how much of it can be fed, particularly during some early life-stages of the animal. This means soybean meal will be required. Ensuring adequate protein levels is essential if one wants to produce meaty hams and bacon, maximum loin eye area and minimum back fat.

    Lysine is usually the first limiting amino acid. If the lysine level (or any other amino acid for that matter) is inadequate, pig performance will be compromised. Some of these nutrients are expensive so feed suppliers may try to cheat and reduce the requested inclusion rate to keep feed costs down. The hog raiser would be benefited from paying more for a nutritionally adequate ration than feeding a cheaper inadequate ration. By having an independent animal nutritionist working for the benefit of the swine operation, formulation motivations are properly placed.

    With a large operation (say over a thousand or more pigs on feed at one time) a nutritionist working specifically for the farm should be retained. It wouldn't need to be a full-time job after the program was set up but it would need to be ongoing. When one has a thousand or more pigs on feed at one time, making just a little improvement per unit can have a significant effect on the bottom line of your income and balance statements. A lot of controls need to be put in place to be sure adequate nutrition reaches the pig so that it can perform at its economic optimum.

    Swine feeds generally contain some medications. Keeping up to date on these would be the job of the nutritionist and veterinarian working on the project. All pigs should be given iron shots soon after birth, have their eye teeth clipped, boars not to be saved for breeding should be castrated, all pigs should be wormed at weaning and fed the appropriate medications such as Tylan, Mecadox, etc.

    Knowing when a hog is finished and ready to market is economically important because it takes more feed to put on fat than muscle. As a hog finishes it is putting on more fat, and since it takes over twice as much feed to put weight gain on a pig as fat than as muscle, this means that during the finishing stage the cost per unit of gain is higher.

    Thus, to optimize profit, a pig should be marketed when it stops (or significantly reduces) growing muscle and begins to deposit a much higher percentage of fat. The eye of the experienced hog raiser can determine easily when this physiological change-over from growing to fattening is taking place. Pigs will differ at what weight and age this takes place so you have to "eyeball" each pig and market them when they are at the end of their muscle growing phase if profit is to be maximized. The person responsible for marketing pigs should walk the pens regularly and pick out those pigs that are ready for market based on their appearance and not on their weight or age.

    In the Western market there is usually a price penalty for overly fat hogs so that an over-finished animal costs the hog raiser in both increased feed costs and decreased revenue. This price penalty is probably not present in the Ukrainian market but the higher cost of weight gain when a pig begins to fatten must be considered and pigs laying down a high percentage of fat should be marketed.

    Increasing the efficiency of gain is obviously important as this reduces the cost of feed per unit of gain. Increasing the rate of gain is also important as you can sell the faster growing pig sooner and get your money earlier plus you can increase the number of pigs fed per year in the facility. Rate and efficiency of gain are highly positively correlated.

    If the pigs will be converted into pork by a facility owned by the producer himself, it may be profitable to feed more vitamin E during the finishing period than is needed for growth. It has been shown that feeding extra dietary vitamin E to pigs and beef animals during the finishing phase will increase the shelf life of the meat. The increased shelf life will usually justify the cost of adding extra vitamin E supplementation during the finishing period, but there must be some way for the cost of the extra vitamin E to be returned to the feeder. If one owns an integrated operation, it may be advantageous to feed for customer satisfaction at the meat counter rather than just raising pigs.

    PART 4

    GENETICS

    The genetic potential of the breeding stock and thus the entire hog operation will influence the animal health, carcass quality and rate and efficiency of gain. Hybrid pigs are preferable to purebreds for growing market hogs. This means the selection of herd sows of a specific hybrid breeding and the use of boars of another hybrid breeding is recommended so that the resultant offspring that will be finished and marketed have the genetic potential to grow efficiently and to supply the market with the type of carcass desired. Pure blood lines are established by the suppliers of breeding stock (particularly boars) to realize the benefits of heterosis (hybrid vigor). The genetic quality of the purchased boars eventually becomes the genetic quality of the herd if gilts are saved to enter the swine herd. I anticipate buying outside males but not females after the breeding herd is established.

    ANIMAL HEALTH

    Maintaining good herd health is probably the greatest challenge for a large swine operation to be profitable. Someone trained in maintaining good health of the swine herd should be on site regularly and play an active role. Nutrition plays an influence and the addition of medication to the feed can be helpful, but a trained veterinarian should be involved to help maintain good animal health. Definite procedures for preventing disease should be part of the operating procedure. The chance for the introduction of swine diseases must be minimized by limiting visitors and isolating any off-premise pigs. New boars should be isolated for a specific period of time to determine if they are free of diseases. To protect hogs from contamination one can use a foot bath, that is -- a tray on the floor that is filled with water and disinfectant. A foot bath is placed in front of the entrance to each hog barn and each visitor steps in the bath in order to sanitize their shoes when entering the facility.

    Steam cleaning and/or chemically disinfecting the facilities should be standard operating procedures. It is helpful to have the facilities de-populated and sanitized between groups of pigs but this isn't always possible in a large operation where a continual supply of pigs are needed to keep the slaughter house running.

    You shouldn't wait until there is an outbreak of some disease before getting serious about animal health or you may find yourself out of business.

    LABOR MANAGEMENT

    At present the cost of labor in Ukraine is low. As a result, it won't be as profitable to be fully mechanized in Ukraine as in the USA. However, I recommend that you aim for a level of labor efficiency that allows you to maximize profit and thus be able to pay workers well and on time in order to attract and retain good employees. People (employees) are a "pain in the butt" and the fewer of them that it takes to get the job done, the better. Employees should be terminated for drinking on the job, theft or excessive absences. Paying a better than average wage on time is conducive to keeping good employees and thus allows you to weed out the bad and retain the productive workers. Bartering pork, feed and other items for some of their wages would be logical. Tax advantages to both the employer and the employees should be considered.

    A training program for employees should be in place to teach them what needs to be done and why. This could include both swine management and financial management. Employees should be empowered to make decisions and, in doing so, motivated to make a profit for the owners. For this reason, it may make sense to offer financial rewards for superior performance or some type of profit-sharing plan.

    SLAUGHTERING AND MEAT PROCESSING

    The agribusiness infrastructure in Ukraine is not well developed. There is therefore a greater need here than in the West to be vertically integrated in order to obtain supplies, do production, value add and market and to stay in business. There are major advantages to having control of the input (feed) and production phases of a swine production operation. By owning one's own meat slaughtering and processing plants, one can gain control of value-added processing and marketing. It therefore makes sense, if possible, to have some involvement with a slaughter and meat processing facility.

    The tastes of the consumer should be considered. Westerners generally prefer a leaner carcass and less fat than Ukrainians. It is also more profitable to grow lean (muscle) than fat. Labeling the meat products and differentiating the product in the market place may allow for a premium price to be charged.

    CONCLUSION

    I think that given the abundance of inexpensive grain, availability of protein (some imported and some produced locally), cheap labor, favorable climate and obvious demand for pork (since much of it is being imported), that pig raising should be profitable in Ukraine. There are large swine operations in Ukraine where a profit is being made. Feeding pigs would be a good way to add value to the grain produced locally.

    This article, while general, focuses on issues that should be addressed in considering whether or not to go into large-scale pork production. If you decide to proceed, then greater attention should be given to all of the general topics discussed. Hiring professionals in each of the various disciplines for consultation is essential. For assistance on any related questions, please feel free to contact Land O'Lakes, an American agribusiness implementing a U.S. Government program to support private agriculture, in Lviv at 971-911.

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