Managing Our Most Valuable Resource!

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Simon Grey, Genesus General Manager for European Region

Globally Pig Farmers have a problem that is getting worse year on year. An aging and reducing workforce.

In many countries the average age of farmers is around 59 and is increasing. In North America the average age of workers has increased by 5 years over the past 10 years. This trend is global. (ref Nass – USDA)

Add to this an increasing global population that will require more food. I am quite sure some of this demand will be fulfilled by factory produced fake meat, despite the setbacks we are seeing in this market. There may well also be some reduction in meat consumption per capita in the western world. This is, however not where major population growth will be!

Technology as always will help our situation, more automation, remote supervision of pigs and robotics will play their part. This technology will be more applicable to large industrial farms, which is the growing trend globally.

Pig genetics will also play its part in the guise of an easy to manage pig. Some of the trends in terms of pig mortality, levels of cannibalism and increased levels of work required at farrowing have had significant effect on our labour force. In 1993 in the USA, average sow mortality was 4.3%. By 2017 it had increased to 10% and last year (2021) the average level was 13.56%…. (Ref SMS) Back in 1993, 13% piglet mortality would have been seen as a significant issue………

Nobody goes to work to do a bad job. Nobody likes failure. Dead pigs, pigs eating each other are rather large indicators of failure.

The next issue is when the current and future workforce was born. Millennials are known as the first global generation. The first generation that grew up with the internet as part of their daily lives. Today these are people aged 26 to 41. Next come Generation Z, which are today aged 10 to 25. Generation Z had technology available to them as babies and toddlers. In 8 years-time these 2 generations will be aged 18 to 49 and form the largest part of the available workforce.

Who is going to be pulling dead pigs from pens? Who is going to be getting in pens of pigs who are eating each other to sort? Who is going to work all night to supervise sows farrowing, to tube colostrum into pigs that are likely to die? Who is going to deal with prolapsed sows? I have no idea!

Genesus – Easy To Manage Robust pigs.

As a provider of breeding stock our focus has been and will continue to be providing a strong robust pig that is industry leading in terms of ease of management. This is one of Genesus core beliefs.

1, Pig meat with the highest possible meat-eating quality and taste.

2, Pigs that are robust and very easy to manage.

3, Competitive cost of production.

It is relatively easy to keep increasing number of piglets born alive. We have seen over the past years this happening. However, there is only sense doing this if sows can rear these piglets, if the effect of this does not lead to higher sow mortality and morbidity and if the extra piglets are robust and fast growing.

Sadly, we have seen the negative effects of increased born alive in our industry. High mortality (sows, piglets and growing pigs), high levels of lameness, high levels of prolapse, lots of time taken to give piglets colostrum by hand, lots of foster sows, having to install milk systems into farrowing crates, high levels of cannibalism in nursery and finisher, longer and longer times to empty barns…

Seems our industry has gone forward on born alive but backwards everywhere else as the following table shows!!

Genesus, from the day it became a global breeding company focused on having a strong pig that would survive. The final word on the selection of all pigs has been the selectors who work on farms. There is no sense in having the highest index pig if it can’t walk!

This focus has never changed. Genesus for many years has been actively researching the complete package of sow productivity traits and have been constantly looking for any negative effects of improved performance at our nucleus, multipliers, and commercial test herds as we did not want to repeat mistakes our competitors have made. We saw indications of some negatives in the nucleus herds for the first time last year and as a result, implemented our research results and immediately updated the main traits and selection criteria in our Dam line index. We saw also that our 2 purebred dam lines (Yorkshire and Landrace) have responded differently to us using a single Dam line index. As a result of these differences, we use different indexes for Yorkshire and Landrace.

To be able to recruit and retain staff going forwards we will have no choice but to have easy-to-manage pigs on our farms. As an industry we are not good at dealing with problems we know are coming. As farmers most also like to talk about high born alive. In my experience, if you ask a pig farmer or pig farm manager how they are doing, the answer will be what their born alive is. We naturally avoid dealing with what is bad……

For anyone who is not sure, the issue with hiring and retaining staff is only going to get worse. Doing nothing is not an option and will result in failure of your business. Farms do not run without people.

One other warning here. We are under increasing pressure on the way we treat our animals, the amount of antibiotics we use, from the vegetarian and vegan lobby and from “meat alternatives”. As an industry today, with sow mortality in double figures, and from start of farrowing to slaughter deaths over 30% on many farms we have ZERO defence to our systems and practices.

If we do nothing about these issues, governments will legislate against us, in fact we see this already happening in many places (UK and EU already have quite strict animial welfare rules). Pig farmers are irrelevant when it comes to voting power, the vegan lobby far outweighs us in that department. We have to at least appeal to the “silent majority”. To do this we need to deal with our own problems. We have to focus on significantly lowering mortalities, we need pigs that need less antibiotic treatments, we need pigs that do not eat each other. We need to this today, if we wait to deal with these issues we will fail………

Genesus will continue to do what we believe in. The best tasting pork, easy to manage pigs that don’t die and a competitive cost of production…..