"We believe that Hutterville Colony in Magrath, Alberta, may have the highest productivity in North America," says the president of the Canadian Swine Breeders Association. Alfred Wahl, who combines his association role with being general manager of Peak Swine Genetics Inc in Canada, is talking about an enterprise that achieved 30.2 pigs weaned per sow per year in 2006.
Sales from the Hutterville Colony farm totalled 13 800 pigs in the year, Mr Wahl continues. This is from a unit that acts as both a commercial herd and a multiplier of F1 females. Its 540 sows are split evenly between retained F1 gilts and Yorkshire sows bred to Landrace boars. Notwithstanding the fact that the herd is PRRS-positive in the finishing barn, there is little effect on reproductive parameters in the breeding herd.
Experience and dedication have been behind the level of productivity achieved. Hog barn manager Peter Wipf has 20 years of experience in pig production. Hutterville Colony has been multiplying breeding gilts for the past 10 years. For at least 8 years now the unit has followed feeding recommendations from the same feed company. As for the dedication, that refers to the way in which the in-barn staff applies the proper routines.
According to Mr Wahl, these routines provide 10 solid reasons of pig husbandry practice that can be identified as contributing substantially to Hutterville Colony's results.
1 No repeat matings
With a first-service success record of 96%, the herd's sows are highly productive. Since the breeding section provides replacement gilts in-house, any animals that fail to breed from first service can be culled without regard for cost. Gilts selected on the basis of productivity will continue to be productive as sows.
2 Early morning services
Peter Wipf and his staff start the sow mating process early in the morning — in fact, at 5am — when things are quiet on the farm and before the automatic feed system switches on at 7am. Sows are bred only on a 24-hour rotation, as often as they stand to natural boar service. The boars appear to be more aggressive and have a higher libido before they are fed in the morning.
Services for the sows are done only on Days 4, 5 and 6 post-weaning, while gilts are bred as they come on heat for the number needed to fill the target total of 27 services each week. All services are fully supervised, so that only one sow mating is attempted at a time.
After weaning, the sows are fed up to 6 times per day to assure a full feed intake prior to servicing. Their feed level drops to 1.8kg/day after service and stays at that level for the next 35 days. Body condition scoring is done routinely so that sow feeding rates can be condition-based. In the last 3 weeks of gestation, feed levels are increased to 3.3kg per day from the usual 2kg level, regardless of body condition or sow age.
3 Sow movement
The colony at Magrath never moves sows during the period between 10 days to 35 days post-service. This assures embryo implantation can take place without disruption and hence large litters can be expected at farrowing.
4 Barn hygiene and lighting
Hygiene in the breeding barn is considered a priority. No feed wastage is allowed to accumulate around the feeders — any spillage is cleared away regularly. Slats behind the sows are scraped every day to prevent fouling of vulvas when sows lie down. The unit spends 40 hours each week in keeping the farrow-finish facilities washed and disinfected. Equipment is allowed to dry for 24 hours before disinfecting with Virkon S or Profilm.
No dust is allowed to accumulate on the fluorescent lights or on any of the other in-barn equipment. Lights remain on 18 hours each day, from 4am to 10pm, to be sure the sows are up and about so any on heat are ready for servicing.
5 Dietary consistency
Sow diets formulated for breeding and gestation have remained unchanged for several years at the recommendation of feed service Standard Nutrition. There is a separate breeding diet for the 35 days post-service until pregnancy diagnosis, after which the sows switch to their feed type for gestation. But the herd also uses a gilt breeder diet — some people might call this a flushing ration — that is fed to the 135kg gilts for 25 days until their first service. All of the sow diets contain dried beet pulp as a source of fibre to prevent constipation.
The colony supplies its own grains to the unit, involving barley as well as wheat. Their nutrient and mycotoxin levels are checked at harvest. Mould inhibitors are included in the sow rations to assure palatability.
Particle size is set for 700 microns in the plate-grinder that deals with all feed ingredients. The unit mills its own feeds in batches of one metric ton, believing that keeping to this relatively small batch size means the ration is sure to stay fresh until its consumption by the pigs. Also for freshness, each feed storage bin or silo is emptied completely before re-filling. Since the farm's mill is computerised, it can operate automatically as necessary in manufacturing any type of feed for the unit.
6 Hybrid boar use
Mr Wahl notes that Hutterville Colony breeds its commercial Summit gilts to Trailblazer boars supplied by Peak Swine Genetics. "Piglets sired by these boars are robust at birth, allowing only a 4% prewean mortality," he comments. The farrowing crates at the colony have been designed and built at home with the accent on protecting baby pigs and sows from injury. Farrowings take place in pens that are 1.83 metres wide, which means there is space for a 46cm piglet creep area on either side of the crate to prevent crushing as well as providing room for the large litters.
7 Teeth clipping
The unit managers recognise that piglets with clipped teeth lose the weapons with which to shred a sow's teats or injure litter-mates. But they also insist that the job must be done correctly. They say this means using a high-quality sidecutter device which is replaced every 3 weeks and clipping only to the gum in order to prevent bleeding. Piglets' tails on the unit are cauterised with a heated nipper to prevent infections and hence swollen joints. Although making time to do the job right can seem hard when you have 21 litters born on the first day of farrowing (the herd totals 26 litters per week), say the managers, it ensures that most baby pigs will live to weaning day.
8 Milk System
The rule of thumb followed for the sow unit is that the use of a supplemental milk system is worthwhile if there are more than 11 live piglets per litter. The supplementation helps sow condition to change less, because the sows are milking less heavily to raise large litters. The system is also used as a top-up for smaller pigs. One point seen as a disadvantage is that the equipment does need to be kept very clean.
Signage at the farm suggests that visitors are received only by appointment. Most of those who do enter are restricted to the farm office or a nearby residence rather than being allowed into the barns. All barn doors are kept locked. Clean boots are disinfectant-dipped between rooms. Every member of the barn staff is required to wear latex gloves when handling the animals. Another requirement is the wearing of a dust mask during their work. Monitoring of herd health includes serology, with blood samples collected every month to check for PRRS and mycoplasma status.
The farm personnel are encouraged every day to work as a team in making sure that all jobs are accomplished. Management routines have been developed to be sure that everything that needs doing is done in a timely fashion. The teamwork aspect also extends to the herd's suppliers a plan for success has been developed with all supplier representatives. PIGI