By Debbie James

Effective herd health planning can reduce the cost of production on Welsh pig farms and future-proof the sector against the fallout of significant restructuring in the Chinese pig industry.

Speaking at the Wales Pig and Poultry Event at Welshpool Livestock Market, pig industry expert Mick Sloyan predicted that UK pigmeat prices would remain strong for the next six months as a result of African swine fever (ASF) reducing Chinese production by 25 per cent.

But the threat from modernisation of pig production in China meant that monitoring, treating and preventing diseases to reduce cost of production on UK pig farms was more important than ever.

“One of the biggest impacts on profitability is the health of your herd, if you have poor pig health, you have poor performance and your cost of production will be higher,’’ Mr Sloyan told farmers attending the joint Farming Connect and Menter Moch Cymru event.

“You need to be on top of your game. Herd health plans are a no-brainer, if you don’t plan for the health of your herd you are taking an enormous risk.’’

Menter Moch Cymru has launched a new scheme that provides financial support for pig farmers in Wales towards herd health planning.

If they meet certain criteria they can access 80 per cent funding towards an initial herd health plan, followed by further support for its review in subsequent years.

Mr Sloyan anticipates that modern, intensive production will likely displace farms in China that cannot afford good biosecurity and this may help the industry move closer towards self-sufficiency over the next decade.

So, while opportunities for exporters look good in the short-term, in the mid- to long-term, they may not be sustainable, he added.

This will impact on demand and price in the UK pig sector but forecasts for domestic consumption are buoyant.

To maintain their strong position going forward, Mr Sloyan urged pig producers to redouble progress already made in advancing herd health and biosecurity.

“We haven’t got ASF in the UK but they have it in Belgium so it is getting closer therefore biosecurity has to be a real priority to protect herds from that external threat.’’

He said high welfare standards in UK pig production had helped pigmeat command and retain a price premium compared to European competitors and that must not be compromised.

“Over the last three years we have seen an average price premium of £0.13/kg compared to pigmeat from Europe, as much as 20p/kg against our direct competitors in Denmark and the Netherlands.

“UK producers haven’t just told retailers we need your support because our product is British, they have presented a very strong case on all the qualities they are delivering, including welfare, and that must be the case going forward through high herd health status on all pig units.’’

Case study

Switching sow breed has increased production at a Welsh pig unit.

The unit at Coleg Meirion Dwyfor’s Glynllifon campus near Caernarfon had run a 50-sow Landroc herd but this breed has been replaced with a WhiteLand hybrid.

Farm manager Rhodri Owen told farmers attending the Wales Pig and Poultry Event at Welshpool that this hybrid had been selected for its fertility, prolificacy and milking ability.

As a result of the change, in the 12 months to the end of July 2019 the unit will have achieved sales of over 1100 porkers, compared to 990 in the previous year.

“The WhiteLand has helped us get numbers throughput in what can be an unforgiving system for some breeds,’’ said Mr Owen.

The unit had also had pedigree Welsh Pigs but this breed was phased out because it is more suited to a straw-based extensive system.

“The Welsh Pig produced excellent eating quality but the hybrids are more resilient in a housed situation and there is also the benefit of their hybrid vigour,’’ said Mr Owen.

The unit is trialling three types of boar in its artificial insemination programme.

Mr Owen said TenderShire genetics were producing good quality pigs for the butcher’s counter while EBX, a market leading terminal sire from the US, and OptiMus have been selected to influence further conformation and ‘high growth, lean meat’ abilities.

“We are monitoring consumer response through our retailers to inform our breeding strategy going forward,’’ he said.