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News and analysis on the global poultry
and animal feed industries.
on July 1, 2009

Margins stay tight even as commodity prices fall

The economics remain tough.

A friend of mine who runs a feed company says that he has developed the habit of starting each day by looking at the latest price of oil on the world market before digesting any other information. His days have therefore started better recently, with a 25 percent drop in the crude oil price in just four weeks. The news on other commodities has also been reassuring, not least the crop outlook for maize in the USA.

At one stage the debate in pig production circles rotated around whether the US corn price would stop at $8 per bushel or go to $10. Around the $8 mark there was still the possibility of surviving as a pork producer, provided that your enterprise was absolutely efficient. But with $10 corn, the game seemed over for everyone. No wonder then that there have been such sighs of relief as the harvest forecasts heralded a bumper crop.

Even so, the economics remain tough. They explain why the advisers have put out the message to try to maximise the amount produced from the major inputs rather than trying to save fractions of cost on relatively small items such as vaccines.

Dead pigs cost a fortune in feed alone, we are reminded. Keep them alive and you have something to sell that will more than cover the expenditure on vaccination or other health treatments.

Room for improvement

Tight margins bring much to mind. Now is as good a time as any to take another look at those charts that compare the physical performance of a series of pig units by showing the average and the results achieved by the top-performing producers. Anyone in the average zone can see immediately how much improvement would be necessary in order to win a place among the best 10 percent in the recording system.

The remarkable conclusion offered in many such cases is that the growth performance of the most successful units exceeds the average by as much as 40-50 percent. Imagine having that amount of extra meat to market without adding to the production cost.

Do not assume that this big gap applies only in the pig sector. I am assured that the seed currently sold for growing maize is capable genetically of giving twice the yields that are achieved today even by the most prolific growers.

Changes remain a mystery

Staying ahead of the game in health and management issues sometimes seems a match where the rules are forever changing. Our reports from this year's International Pig Veterinary Society Congress have necessarily referred to the circovirus PCV2, because the diseases associated with it add up to the hottest topic in pig health today. The virus's connection is now well-established not only to wasting disease PMWS, but also a number of respiratory and enteric disorders alongside high mortality, inflamed heart muscles before birth (prenatal myocarditis) and reproductive failure.

A link to the PDNS syndrome is also often proposed, although this is less clear-cut. It has not been reproduced experimentally with the circovirus and one IPVS paper this time described the same condition occurring with different agents, namely a TTV tenovirus of a type found in wild boar that then combined with the PRRS virus.

The whole circovirus situation has changed with the introduction of some good vaccines after five years or more of intensive research. A second change has been in the ferocity of outbreaks seen in North America. Before about 2004, there was relatively little disease due to PCV in that part of the world, other than some sporadic outbreaks in certain herds.

Something happened in 2003, however, which transformed the North American outlook so that the whole mix of PCV-associated diseases became rampant regionally. No one yet has any idea exactly what the trigger factor was. All we know, according to a top specialist in the virus, is that essentially the PCV seen since 1997 suddenly disappeared and was replaced by a new version.

It is not yet the end of the story, this specialist warns me. In theory the same sudden changeover could happen again. As before, the worry will be whether the next one leads to antigenic differences that mean our vaccines are less effective. PIGI

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