Germany has a huge pig industry, with 2.1 million sows making her the largest producer in Europe. The old East Germany has many large pig units – which were the state farms in the days before the Wall came down. Much further to the west, the area around Lindern — south west of Bremen and quite close to the Dutch border — is noted for its traditional modest family farms, solidly built of brick and all kept in immaculate condition by these extremely proud farmers. To illustrate this, the pig unit feed mixing facility or “kitchen” as it is called, is kept as clean by the farmer as is the one inside his farmhouse. This region also happens to be where Big Dutchman has its huge HQ, along with many of the other German equipment manufacturers. In terms of size, the pig units are not that big by modern day standards as they tend to be just staffed by family labour plus many are split site operations.
German producers have access to many different highly prolific genotypes and in many instances find that they are in the fortunate position of having sows which have very large litters but which struggle to rear them. The Danes tend to rear these big litters by cross fostering, shift sucking and using nurse sows, which are all labour intensive. Another alternative is to give the piglets extra milk using cups and milk lines and this system is attractive to a family farm in that very little extra labour input required, once the equipment is installed. The Supp-le-milk system hails from Iowa and is marketed in Germany by Boerries Gmbh, based in Lindern and headed up by MD Ulrich Boerries. Ulrich had kindly organized my trip in conjunction with Joe Mallinson, export manager for UK based Primary Diets. Harald, Andreos and Elisabeth Flerlage own a 120ha farm near Essen and have a 280 sow unit based on PIC Camborough F stock which is crossed using Pietrain semen sourced from the local 600 head AI stud. The Flerlage’s breeding unit was established in 2006, as up until then just weaners were bought in for finishing. Corn silage is the predominant crop grown on the arable land and the silage is used for biogas production. Germany has vowed to have a green energy policy, with much of the nation’s electricity now being generated via biogas plants and the countryside is covered with a huge array of green structures.
Some of the biogas is used to heat water which is used to heat the unit’s barns. Another notable feature as you drive around Germany is that most of the roofs of the farm buildings are covered with photo-voltaic solar panels and the Flerlage farm is no exception to this trend.
The 280 sows farrow at three weekly intervals, are weaned at 27 days, produce 14.8 pigs born alive and rear 12.5 / litter. Pigs sold /sow stand at a very creditable 28 and the family are very proud of the fact that sows on average wean 100kg of live pigmeat per litter, with the Supp-le-milk system helping to boost weaning weights, which then carry through to slaughter. The family first saw the system at the huge 2008 EuroTier show in Hannover and after discussing it with their vet they decided to install a system, to help benefit the smaller piglets in the litters. A 24 per cent CP 1.6 per cent lysine creep diet supplied by Primary Diets is fed, starting at 6-8 days of age. This is a bought in feed, although the majority of feeds are home mixed using a Daltec blending system. Post weaning rations do not contain high levels of zinc oxide, to prevent scour, as is common in the UK. If pigs do scour then the vet prescribes appropriate medication. Biosecurity has a high priority, with white overalls being worn when working with the breeding stock and red ones when with the weaners, growers and finishers.There is an extensive vaccination programme in place, with protection being given against Clostridium, PRRS, circo virus, parvo, mycoplasma and swine flu. At weaning, sows go into stalls and are inseminated three times at 12 hour intervals using sponge catheters. Later on in pregnancy the sows are grouped and fed via ESFs. The unit has only enough accommodation to finish half the production. Weaner pens are practically fully slatted, combining plastic slats with a central area of concrete ones,which have long narrow slits. The rear of the pens are fitted with a hinged canopy which has radiant heater strips fitted to the undersides. Finisher pigs average 90kg deadweight and 57-58 per cent lean meat . The slaughter plant is owned by Danish Crown and is increasing its throughput as labour costs are much cheaper than they are in Denmark.
Another producer who has installed the Supp-le-milk system is Wilfried Gerdes. He runs 230 Danbred sows which produce offspring containing 50 per cent Duroc genes. He used to use Pietrain semen but prefers Duroc as the DLWG and meat percentage is better. Wilfried stopped buying in his gilts at one point and opted to go on to a crisscross replacement policy, producing his own F2 gilt replacements, but after six months went back to buying in F1s, as he ran into problems trying to breed his own replacements. Breeding companies say producers should focus on producing and we will focus on breeding, and in this case it’s proved to be right, although there are many producers who successfully operate a crisscross replacement policy and are happy to trade a lower litter size against buying in gilts and the biosecurity risks that this can incur.
Wilfried operates a four week batch system with 40 females per batch and is producing 33.6 pigs weaned / sow / year, which is outstanding. At farrowing Wilfried puts a lamp at the back of the sow. Once she’s finished the lamp is removed and the extra heat is provided by a heat pad. Wilfried’s farrowing crates are adjustable, a very useful feature given the way sows increase in size over the lifespan of such equipment. In addition, the rear of the crate has a gap allowing easy access should the sow need assistance at farrowing. He has been on the Supp-le milk system for four years and emphasized that does not foster any piglets at all. The Danbred sow is noted for its hyper prolific nature and the extra milk boosts weaning weights plus the sows tend not to “milk off their backs” as much, which can result in re-breeding problems at service, through excessive weight loss through the lactation period. For the first week of lactation sows get fed twice a day, after which this is increased to three times a day with sows receiving 6-8kg of feed daily. Creep feeding starts at day 10. Wilfried also likes the ESF concept and hence his sows are fed by means of this feeding system. There is no land with the pig unit and Wilfried is charged five euro/ cu metre to get rid of his slurry.
Hyper prolific sows are part and parcel of the pig scene these days and because uterine capacity is finite often the birth weight of some piglets is less than ideal. These small piglets end up on the back teats which ironically give less milk, so supplementing the sow’s milk supply is an obvious way to ensure these little guys survive – and thrive as well. •
— By Norman Crabtree