A number of international pig breeding companies are moving away from pure genetics to become high-tech, customer-focused and scientifically based to retain business, as well as win new customers. Pig breeding companies in Ireland, Denmark and Britain, which all have clients spread around the world, are moving this way as they incorporate the latest in science and computer software to gear up in the face of stiff competition—and catch up with the new remote world of virtual reality.

High-tech pig breeding
 Stephen Waite, head of science at JSR Genetics in the UK, told Pig International: “We cannot just be a genetics company anymore; we have to develop on all fronts to ensure we stay ahead in the coming revolution in the pig industry over the next five to 10 years.

“We aim to work with our customers, using modern high-tech equipment and computer software to help them tailor their products to grow their business,” says Waite. “By using the latest technology, we can even help them record and monitor the daily performance of their pigs and keep a close watch on their feeding regimes via the Internet.”

This sort of change is becoming important today as an increasing number of companies and organizations make use of new software technology to conduct online “live” conferences, demonstrations and question-and-answer sessions. Cyberspace is humming with the increasing number of online webinars as more people go online.

“We can keep a close eye on our customers’ pigs performance from here and call them if we spot a problem and help them to adjust their systems, feeding procedures, or heating, as necessary,” says Waite. “However, we do like to keep up personal face-to-face contacts between their staff and our team of experts, so that they get to know everybody here. Then there is always somebody available to help them when they need assistance. So there is still some travel involved.

“The better they can do, the better it is for us as it provides us with a very useful database that we can use to develop more innovations,” he explained.

Breeding profitable pigs 
JSR Genetics recently launched its new “faster finishing” JSR Geneconverter 800m boar, and is currently working with the Roslin Institute to identify the “feed efficiency” gene in pigs to start feeding efficient pigs at the earliest opportunity. They are using blood tests from thousands of JSR pigs to genome sequence and create individual DNA maps of each one.

“We also are recording the feed conversion rate of each animal, using Feed Intake Recording Equipment feeders. By examining their corresponding DNA profiles we hope to identify those genes responsible for feed efficiency,” says Waite.

His company is also testing new image analysis software to help pig producers analyze ultrasound scans from live animals to determine intra-muscular fat levels to increase loin marbling and enhance flavoring. This could become part of the package to help customers find new markets.

And this is vital, in the view of JSR meat scientist Caroline Mitchell, who said that in addition to genetics, cost efficiency and management, the quality, flavor, texture and color of the final product—the meat—plays a vital role in any pig production business. “I can add value across all supply chains by analyzing the end product and then working backwards and modifying production systems, feeding and transport to attain consistency and quality pork. A product consumers want to buy,” says Mitchell.

She heads up the company’s Food Quality Centre, where she established a consumer tasting panel of 12 to16 people who have been trained and selected for their ability to assess flavors, scents, textures and colors in meat, as well as drip loss and pH levels. “We can use this facility to help our customers produce more palatable pork, with particular qualities to suit their markets, or to develop new products for niche markets,” says Mitchell, who works with customers in Russia, Korea and Spain to help them improve their products, obtain consistency and streamline supply chains.

Global pig production
 Denmark’s DanBred International changed from a farmer cooperative to a private limited company in February 2011, “has become a full service provider of customized and tailored genetic solutions and pig production extension services with the focus on knowledge and expertise,” says Thomas Muurmann Henriksen, chief executive. “This was necessary to meet the needs and expectations of progressive food producers within the pork segment of the meat industry.”

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Nicolaj Nørgaard, head of the Danish Pig Research Centre, which provides technical services to DanBred International, pointed out that there are different service levels at different prices and it’s important that pig farmers agree on the service level before buying.

“It is different from country to country and it’s up to breeding companies to provide what customers want and expect in their country,” says Nørgaard. “In Denmark, for example, most pig producers want to buy the best advice they can get and prefer to be independent. But in other countries, pig farmers often want more assistance available in the package they buy from the breeding company.”

“We are contracted to DanBred International; we offer various services to its pig producers overseas. We focus on the whole value chain and we will send an expert out to help them with any particular issue, if they pay, of course,” says Nørgaard.

Ronan Murphy, business manager of Ireland’ Hermitage Genetics, which recently expanded its technical team in Russia and has major trade links with Asia, as well as Europe, agreed that breeding companies must offer more than just genetics.

“These days, we work more closely with customers to help them improve their businesses,” says Murphy. “It’s all part of the new move towards customer-focused service and bespoke products. We definitely spend a lot more time with our partners to help them improve their pig business now than before. You cannot just sell them a pig anymore.”

Matthew Curtis, managing director of ACMC Ltd., which has interests in Asia and Europe, as well as the UK, also confirmed the need for modern forward-looking pig breeding companies to become more involved with their customers.

"Pig production is a highly sophisticated and technical business. As breeding stock has developed, it is important that inputs the stock requires are fully understood to achieve optimum performance,” he says. “Before making a decision on a pig breeding stock purchase, it is important for customers to have an appreciation of what support a company can provide in after-sales services.”