Prairie Swine Centre continues to find answers

PEET ON PIGS Minimizing water wastage and finding practical ways to 
reduce stress and loading times are two examples of the centre’s work

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As it enters its 20th year of operation, the Prairie Swine Centre continues to help find solutions to industry challenges, particularly in its key areas of expertise — engineering, manure management, ethology (animal behaviour) and nutrition. As the industry provides both board members and significant funding, the centre responds to the needs of the producers, both in the short and longer term. Its 2011 Annual Report highlights some of the ongoing research projects and their potential benefits to producers.

The engineering department has been looking at ways of reducing water usage, especially the type of drinking system used and the design of nozzle used for pressure washing. Water is a significant cost in pig production and a great deal of wastage occurs, leading to high manure disposal costs. Three different drinking systems were compared in grow-finish pens: A conventional nipple drinker, a nipple drinker with side panels to reduce interference from other pigs while drinking, and a trough with side panels and a constant water level. The latter had 60 per cent less wastage, using just 1.27 litres per day per pig. The nipple drinker used 3.77 l/day-pig and the nipple with side panel used 3.57 l/day-pig. One disadvantage of trough drinkers is contamination with feed and sometimes manure, leading to lower water intake, which can compromise performance. In this trial, contamination with organic matter did occur, but it did not appear to impact feed intake or growth rate of the pigs.

The trial on cleaning equipment compared water sprinkling prior to washing with no sprinkling and measured the water use of several different types of pressure washer nozzles. As might be expected, sprinkling resulted in higher water consumption, but also reduced washing time significantly in part-slatted pens. Also, the use of a conventional nozzle led to the lowest water consumption and time spent washing.

An economic analysis, which took into account the cost of water and manure disposal, showed the cost of water was reduced from $3.77 for the conventional nipple drinker to $1.27 for the water trough. Similarly, the manure disposal cost was reduced to $4.90 per pig from $9.11, resulting in an overall cost saving of $9.23 per pig, a 56 per cent reduction in favour of the trough drinker. Such significant savings cannot be ignored, although the potential impact of contamination in troughs needs to be considered, especially in nursery pigs. With the correct trough design and daily management to keep drinkers as clean as possible, changing from nipple drinkers to troughs can have a big impact on the bottom line.

Loading market hogs is one of the most stressful procedures for both pigs and people. Researchers Harold Gonyou and Jennifer Brown looked at loading facilities in Saskatchewan to identify aspects of their design and handling practices that result in the fastest and smoothest loading. They looked at the dimensions of pens, alleyways and doorways, in addition to light intensity, ramp angle, presence of corners, flooring changes and obstacles. Handling of pigs was video recorded and analysed.

The 10 farms observed had ramp inclines ranging from zero to 11 degrees (the maximum recommended incline is 20 degrees) and all worked well. Lighting levels on the farms varied considerably and the report recommends loading facilities be well lit, ideally with diffused incandescent lighting, which reduces contrasts and shadows.

“When moving into a new area such as the truck, lighting should ideally change from darker to lighter, as animals may balk if required to move into darkness,” the report states.

The researchers found using “manways” outside the movement alley (which allows handlers to move around and past the pigs without affecting their movement) improved both pig flow and handler safety. Also, the use of loading pens, where selected pigs are moved up to a week prior to shipping, reduced mixing stress at transport and made the loading process much faster and less stressful.

In terms of handling practices, group size was important, with small groups of five to 10 pigs being easier to move. A common distraction, which can cause pigs to slow, balk or turn back, is too many handlers, or handlers who get ahead of the pigs. The researchers noted handler technique and attitude are very difficult to define and measure. However, they recommended minimizing prod use, using behavioural principles such as the “flight zone,” and maintaining a calm and consistent attitude.

“Prod use on the farms observed was very low — in fact, the farm with highest prod use actually had the longest loading time,” the report stated. “This is because when the prod is used frequently, pigs become less capable of responding and attempt to turn back.”

This observation, measurement and analysis approach to commercial loading facilities has yielded a lot of very practical advice that will help producers to improve their own loading practices. It is a good example of research yielding benefits in the short term to the pork industry.

In my next article I will review some of the nutritional research results from the Prairie Swine Centre.

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