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Pig Monitor Farms
by Carol McLaren, QMS
A pioneering approach to monitor farms based on the commercial operation of two Scottish pig units – one indoor and one outdoor – is proving successful.
Quality Meat Scotland is the driving force supporting the new three-year pig monitor farm project, with additional funding provided by the Scottish Government.
Monitor farms have already been running successfully in the beef, sheep, dairy and arable sectors around Scotland for several years. However, the need for robust barriers to the transfer of disease between pig farms means that the tried and tested formula for monitor farms of hosting structured meetings held on an individual, typical commercial farm is not an option.
In response to this the pig monitor farm programme had to be developed in a way, which recognises the challenge the pig industry faces in exchanging knowledge given producers and staff actively avoid visiting other pig units because of biosecurity concerns.
“The answer has been found in regular off-farm meetings – often featuring video footage of the monitor farms – which focus on key production and health issues and involve pig producers, facilitators and invited specialists,” said Allan Ward, QMS Pig Strategy Manager.
The two units selected by a panel of producers to be pig monitor farms are an Aberdeenshire indoor unit and an outdoor breeding unit in Angus. Details of the farms and discussions during the meetings are kept confidential to encourage the full and frank disclosure of business information.
“A key reason that the monitor farm is working well within the Scottish pig industry is that the meetings are attracting both unit managers and also their staff. This ensures that any ideas generated are quickly challenged on their practicality by those who will be responsible for implementing them and some lively discussions have ensued!” said Allan.
Ensuring that all Scottish producers can access the discussions has led to the creation of two regional sub-groups, one in Dumfries and one in Nairn. This provides a more local point of access to the information for producers who are not located close to the monitor farms themselves.
The Monitor Farms are also part of the Scottish Pig Business Network, which aims to increase the profitability of pig producers.
Comparing performance figures between different businesses is used in many industries to identify points of difference, either good or bad. These can then be targeted for action.
Unfortunately, the benchmarking systems available for the pig sector to date have required so much time to be taken up with inputting the figures that there is little time left at meetings to discuss the outputs.
“The solution to this is for all participating units to use the same on-farm recording software so a deal has been reached with Agrosoft for all Scottish producers to use the Winpig system free of charge for the next three years,” said Allan.
“Likewise, the main pig abattoirs and marketing groups have cooperated to implement the QBox system that feeds back carcase, health and growth rate figures after slaughter.”
The combination of outputs from Winpig, QBox and the Wholesome Pigs (Scotland) health monitoring scheme provide directly comparable figures for all participating farms and allow producers and advisers to concentrate on analysing the figures and identifying strengths and weaknesses.
Earlier this year, specialist pig vet, Iain Mortimer, was appointed to drive forward regional control and eradication activities. Scotland already has a better national health status for the most common endemic diseases than the rest of the UK. In some cases, such as sarcoptic mange, it should be possible to eradicate the disease completely whereas for others, proper control measures will be more cost-effective.
Enzootic pneumonia is a global challenge to the pig industry and yet only 4% of Scottish pigs are showing signs of incomplete control in the abattoir monitoring programme. The target is to reduce this to zero by identifying the affected farms and working with them in either effective vaccination or partial depopulations.
Many diseases are spread by air, birds or other animals so their long-term control depends upon collaboration between different producers and their vets. Coordinated action within local areas gives a much higher success rate than individuals doing their own thing at their own time. Iain is enabling this communication to happen by mapping the health status of the industry and providing controlled, confidential access to it where groups of producers and vets want to work together.
At the market end, the Scottish industry wants to build upon the success of the newly launched 'Specially Selected Pork Approved by Scottish SPCA' brand.
“This has successfully provided a point of difference for Scottish pigmeat in a competitive market and most importantly, it is based upon the existing high levels of stockmanship and management within the industry demonstrated through the QMS Farm Assurance – Pigs scheme, not new standards,” said Allan.
Future developments will relate to defined eating quality and exploring the environmental credentials of Specially Selected Pork. The abattoirs are enthusiastic participants in this activity as they can see that it will add value for all parts of the supply chain.
Pig producers interested in getting involved in any of this activity should contact Allan Ward on 07879 272501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.