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Canada Scores Well On Production Costs But Could Improve Performance

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As a major pork exporter, Canada has to compete not only with the U.S. for market share, but also with countries such as Denmark and Brazil.

So it s important the industry has production costs that allow it to compete effectively and also leave producers a margin.

While comparing costs between various countries is fraught with difficulties (including how various parameters are calculated, different market weights, and exchange rates), a group of pork industry economists carries out such a comparison each year. Called InterPIG, the group now gathers data from 14 countries, including Canada, but unfortunately excluding the U.S. The recently published 2010 results (Table 1) show Canada has low production costs compared with most European countries and similar costs to two Brazilian states.

Only the Brazilian state of Matto Grosso (MT) has significantly lower costs than Canada, while the average production cost in the EU countries surveyed is 44 per cent above Canada s. The EU s cost regime is very different to Canada s, with higher feed, labour and fixed costs, while Brazil has significantly lower labour, other direct costs and fixed costs, but higher feed costs.

Although the U.S. does not participate in InterPIG, production costs are well documented and quite similar to Canada, but have been very much influenced by exchange rates in recent years. The cost of feed ingredients, notably corn versus barley and wheat, sometimes varies between the two countries, giving one a competitive advantage. Feed manufacturing costs are generally lower in the U. S, as are labour costs, especially since the Canadian dollar strengthened.

However, before we slap ourselves too hard on the back, it should be noted the Canadian data set is very limited and contains a number of anomalies, especially in the physical performance data.

Table 2 shows several key performance parameters for a selected group of countries. It shows that Canada has significantly lower breeding herd performance than countries such as Denmark, France and the Netherlands. Despite a relatively high carcass weight, this results in a low figure for the amount of carcass weight produced per sow, although I believe these numbers underestimate Canadian productivity. Still, it is clear those countries with higher numbers of pigs produced per sow, combined with a high carcass weight, show the highest output of carcass weight.

The reason those countries have higher breeding herd output is that they have capitalized on the availability of genetics with the potential to produce a high litter size. In France and Denmark, national breeding programs have delivered exceptional gains and the average number of pigs born alive on Danish farms is now 14.2. There are also commercial breeding companies with high litter size females. In order to remain competitive in the future, Canadian producers must take full advantage of this opportunity to increase output and reduce production costs.

Highly prolific sows need a different approach to management. The first important focus must be to supervise farrowing as closely as possible in order to minimize stillborn piglets, which increase in larger litters if the farrowing process is not monitored. Second, the management of colostrum intake needs to ensure that later-born (and usually smaller) piglets get sufficient colostrum to give them adequate immunity. This requires extensive use of split suckling, assisting small piglets to suckle, and the use of techniques such as stomach tubing and syringe feeding.

Those herds that achieve over 14 born alive, and there are quite a few now, need to have strategies for keeping surplus piglets alive. The most usual method is to use a piggy deck and wean a strong litter of 10-day-old piglets into it, then move a whole litter of one-to two-day-old piglets onto that sow. The recently farrowed sow is then used to foster on surplus newborn pigs after they have suckled colostrum on their own mothers.

Highly productive sows also need a nutritional regime that provides a higher level of nutrient intake at critical stages of the reproductive cycle. For example, Danish research has shown that increasing feed level in the first four weeks of gestation leads to increased litter size.

Also, stepping up the feed level in the last three to four weeks helps fuel the high demand for nutrients from rapidly growing piglets. Maximizing lactation feed intake is the most critical aspect of sow feeding, and attention to pre-farrowing feed levels, room temperature, water availability, feed freshness and feed scale all play a role in increasing intake. In addition, it is worth considering increasing dietary lysine level to 1.2 to 1.3 per cent for younger females where possible or, if this is technically difficult, increasing lysine to 1.15 to 1.2 per cent for all sows.

Tapping into the potential for higher litter size and increasing the number of pigs sold per sow would have a big impact on production costs. If Canadian producers sold 25 pigs per sow at 92.5-kilogram carcass weight, the carcass weight produced per sow would increase to 2.31 tonnes, an improvement of 21 per cent.

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Highlyprolificsowsneed adifferentapproachto management.Thefirst importantfocusmustbe tosupervisefarrowing ascloselyaspossible inordertominimize stillbornpiglets&

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