Dietary dynamics discussed, AI applications exposed

Our conference commentary continues…

Moving on from genetic developments and the benefits the P81 sire line is bringing to the UK pork chain, here we feature the other presentations from the sessions. Nutrition and AI management were up for discussion and there was much to digest….

Are feeds meeting the nutritional needs of todays high performing genotypes? A key question at Rattlerow’s spring conferences.

Nutritionists face some key challenges when formulating pig diets, said Dr Sian Nichols, Pig Technical Manager at Harbro. She highlighted how the rate of genetic improvement had outpaced that of nutritional recommendations during the past decade. She noted how the US nutrient standards currently used by nutritionists as a benchmark when formulating pig diets were now 8 years old and said it was questionable if these recommendations were fulfilling the needs of today’s fast growing, high performance and super-prolific genotypes.

However, nutrition is not the only means of tapping performance potential, said Dr Nichols and she urged producers to consider how health, environment and management influenced and interacted with their feeding strategies.

“To get the best from your pigs, these pillars must be considered in unison. Achieving optimal performance is always the key objective when designing rations, but it has to be cost effective, and that’s the greatest challenge,” she added.

Behavioural influence

Studies have shown how feeding behaviours differ between genotypes and how these inherent traits can also influence production outcomes. Some genotypes visit the feeder less frequently than others and tend to consume a large amount of food in each meal, while other breeds prefer to feed ‘little and often’ and will feed more frequently across a 24-hour period.

“Are the current standards nutritionists use when formulating pig diets fulfilling the needs of today’s fast growing, high performance and super-prolific genotypes…”
Dr Sian Nichols

Dr Nichols said further understanding of genotypic feeding behaviours might help producers tailor pen design and feeder type/positioning to better suit their pigs’ inherent needs. It may also improve production outcomes, reduce stress and potentially cut back the incidence of vice, such as tail biting.

Nutritional deficiencies are associated with vice, and Dr Nichols explained how some theories suggested that certain high-performing genotypes could be inherently driven to ‘search for nutrients elsewhere’ if thier diets were sub-optimal.

Other points to ponder

Nutritional investment in the nursery
A more precise feeding strategy at this critical stage, using high quality diets, could ‘buy’ better performance right up to finishing. Good intakes post-weaning and optimising early growth here is known to reduce variation in the finishing house and improve batch economics.

A strategic ‘tail ender’ programme
Consider the practical/cost benefits of switching late finishing pigs onto a slightly higher spec diet once their bigger pen mates have gone. It will kickstart growth and get them to market weight faster.

Prioritise gut health and digestive function
These are nutritional fundamentals – and more so when withdrawing in-feed medication. Diets that are precisely formulated to supply enough of the correct nutrients at a specific stage in a pig’s life will support gut physiology, microbial balance and stimulate digestive function. A well-functioning gut will extend to overall health, welfare and performance. And be aware that stress affects digestive health and upsets function. Identifying and relieving any potential pressures in the production process can improve appetite/feed utilisation. .

‘Rough’ diet, smoother progress
Fine grist and pelletised feeds might be associated with better FCR, but feeding a courser grist also promotes a healthier stomach environment, improves digestion, lowers intestinal pH and promotes lactobacilli along with the gut’s ‘natural’ pathogenic barrier. It will also reduce the risk of ulceration and looseness.

Gastric ulcers – know the signs
Pigs with ulcers tend to spend more time walking around, changing posture and less time lying down – behaviours indicative of discomfort (SAC study, 2019). The condition also compromises FCR and performance and can increase the incidence of vice occurring.

An English study of 10,000 slaughter pigs found that 73% showed mild ulceration and 6% had severe lesions, but many of these pigs would not have presented clinical signs while on the farm.

If this condition in suspected, producers should consider: Feed form – fine grist feeds generate more gastric fluids in the stomach and increase the risk of acid reflux; Fibre, as insufficient dietary fibre can exacerbate the condition; Overcrowding, as aggression/anxiety and associated stress can have an impact. And remember, this condition can also affect sows and gilts.

Fragile facts, fertile outcomes

Raquel Ausejo explains how poor handling and storage can jeopardise semen quality.

Raquel Ausejo, Manager of R&D Biotechnology with Spanish AI specialist Magapor, focused on fertility issues surrounding AI, highlighting the pitfalls many pig business’s encounter when handling and storing semen.

She said AI success relied on an organised, well managed routine with strict protocols set out to protect every dose of semen delivered to the farm. The meticulous, quality assured semen collection, preparation and despatch processes implemented in the boar stud meant it was highly unlikely for doses to be ineffectual and/or sub-standard when they arrived at the farm. How boar semen is kept and handled when it’s on the unit is more often the reason why matings ‘fail’ and/or AI doesn’t meet expectations.

“Semen is fragile and it is very easy to destroy all of the protective measures undertaken at the stud to preserve it if pig businesses do not invest in the same level of care on their farms. Quality control is critical at every stage, from collection to insemination,” she said.

“The meticulous, quality assured processes implemented in boar studs means it is highly unlikely for semen doses to be ineffectual and/or sub-standard when they arrive at the farm…”
Raquel Ausejo

Exposing semen doses to temperature variation, agitation (during transit) and keeping it in a non-controlled environment, even for short periods of time, will have detrimental impact on their shelf life.

Ms Ausejo advised breeding units to operate a structured, care plan for semen arriving and being stored on farm, founded on stringent temperature management and gentle handling from the time it is delivered to moment of insemination. And when stored, all doses should be rotated in the cooler and listed on an up to date inventory so that all members of the service team know precisely what genetics are available, the age of every consignment in store and which packs should be used first.

Her recommendations for breeding herds are:

  • For semen is delivered to a specific place, such as the reception/farm office, and that packages are placed in a designated cooler as soon as possible (within an hour of arrival)
  • That packs are stored flat in a basket or a container that allows air to circulate
  • That temperature is recorded at the start and end of the day using a digital Hi-Lo thermometer
  • That stocks are managed so the oldest doses are on top, ready to be selected first.
  • Storage units should not be overstocked, as semen packs needed air flow, and a visible inventory should be available and up to date at all times to keep track of stock
  • That all semen coolers and storage boxes provide the correct temperature range and they were monitored.
  • All storage units, both permanent and mobile, should be regularly cleaned and sanitised (weekly) – this might be more challenging for outdoor sites – and not be used to carry or store other materials (vaccines, medications, equipment etc).

Ms Ausejo also advised that in-house AI stations/service pods, remained ‘task-specific’ and dedicated to the AI service routine. Facilities should only house the tools/equipment used for the AI process and only trained, authorised staff should be allowed access.

A knowledgeable line-up. Conference speakers (l-r): Patrick McDonnell and David Wright of Crockway Farms, Ingun Nygard of Magapor, Dr Sian Nichols from Harbro, Dr Chad Stahl of Choice Genetics and Raquel Ausejo Marcos from Magapor.


Rattlerow Farms’ Spring Conferences were held in York and Exeter earlier this year. More than 100 pig producers attended the events.

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