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Purchasing Right Pig Genetics For Large Commercial Pig Farming

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I got the privilege of taking part in the establishment of majority large pig farms in Uganda either directly or indirectly.

I have also had the opportunity to support many other large farms outside Uganda most especially with business model, operational frameworks, nutrition strategies and genetics strategies development. My experience has inspired the writing of this article.

Setting up a large commercial pig enterprise is expensive. Infact, every farm owning more than 100 parent stock sows has invested not less than $100,000 in just setting up the farm. The purchase of genetics, construction of pig houses, setting up a feed mill etc makes a few ten thousand dollars a very small budget to support the set up phase. 

During the set up phase, the biggest percentage of the budget is dedicated to construction. The goal is to build strong houses that can survive with minor repairs for atleast 5 (five) years. Pig house construction for larger farms is expensive because of the need to respect some commercial pig rearing standards for – example 

  1. Space allowances: Each sow and Finisher should be provided with a minimum of 2 and 1 square meters respectively.
  2. Each sow must be allocated maternity space with two different evironment conditions for sows and newly born piglets.
  3. To succeed with minimizing entry of disease causing organisms into the farm (biosecurity), people directly attending to the pigs must be farm residents. Therefore work quarters and other set ups neccessary for making them comfortable must be constructed.
  4. High quality equipment such as feeders, drinkers, stalls, farrowing crates etc are commonly imported from outside Africa.

The second biggest expenditure is genetics which is our subject today. Majority countries in Africa neither have national pig breeding strategies nor private companies engaged in pig breeding and genetics research.

The only exception is South Africa. South Africa is resident to franchises and agents of most international pig breeding companies. This isn’t a surprise:-

South Africa has Africa’s most organized, developing pig sector and pig trading systems.

Therefore, South Africa is the sole genetics source for majority large pig farm operations in other African countries. This makes acquisition of genetics by large commercial farms the second biggest investment. This can even be more expensive if the genetics is  directly imported from Europe due to freight costs.

However, there are many large pig farm operations spending hugely on genetics acquisition but ending up owning inferior breedlines. 

Here below I discuss the three most important factors you must put into considerations to ensure spending money on right pig genetics:-

Buying from a Franchise or agent

A franchise (or franchising) is a method of distributing products or services involving a franchisor, who establishes the brand’s trademark or trade name, a business system, and a franchisee, who pays a royalty and often an initial fee for the right to do business under the franchisor’s name and system. An agent is a person or company authorized or appointed by a producer to sell or distribute his products within a given territory but who is self-employed and takes title to the goods.

Some International pig breeding companies have granted franchises to companies in Africa. These franchises have also started recruiting agents in some African countries.

A Franchise operate same way the principle does and risk loosing businesses incase of any compromise. The principles regarding quality, consistency, pricing, return policies are always similar. These franchises have a right to recruit agents. These too pay royalties but runs as independent businesses.

In fact some money oriented Franchises may be tempted to just watch certain compromises done by their agents without taking action incase they benefit financially since this doesn’t directly affect their relationship with the Franchisor. But very difficult for them to compromise directly.

Therefore, the best place for a large pig farm operation to buy pigs from is a Franchise of an international pig genetics company but not an agent of a local agent except under strict conditions. The reason is given in factor two below.

Population of GP herd 

For new readers, GP is a short form for “Grandparent Stock”. The Grandparents produce the “Parent Stock”. The parent stock is used to produce pigs for growing to slaughter. The higher the number of GP females owned by a given Franchisee or agent, the higher the number of Parent females they can produce. The lower the number of GP, the lower the number of parent females they can produce.

It is common with many agents to accept any order of parent stock females (gilts) placed with them. Usually, Franchises will tend to hesitate and instead phase the supply basing on their production capacity which is determined by the number of GP sows owned.

Therefore, since it is difficult to identify the breedline of a pig by physical characteristics, many producers buying from untrustworthy agents end up buying a mixture of both Parent females and terminal offspring (Pigs supposed to be for slaughter).

It is not possible for a farm owning 50 GP sows to supply 5,000 parent stock gilts annually without support from related breeding farms. Unfortunately, this has happened from time to time!

Some agents hardly disclose number of GP sows owned! Probably this is aimed at giving the buyer false confidence that the agent can supply order made. GP sows and boars are very expensive. This is why most franchises and agents own a few of them. The Franchisees and agents also produce pigs for slaughter to enable continuous farm business just incase sale of genetic value doesn’t generate enough revenue to run operations. If you have dealt with them, you will realize that it is easier for the to mention the total population of their parent stock herd than it is to mention the number of GP sows owned.

This of course affects farm profitability as detailed in factor three below.

Performance perimeters guarantee 

Your genetics supplier must provide their genetics performance perimeters in writing and guarantee it is achievable.

For any breedline to be registered by a swine registry in developed countries as either purebred or hybrid, it has to meet certain unique commercial features. This is the reason why each pig genetic company has unique breeding objectives for their Grandparents, Parents and commercial boar lines. Like said above, you cannot accurately define a pig breedline by its physical characteristics. Also majority African countries including Uganda have no national livestock breeding policies, there is no chance of using registration to ascertain a breed line or define performance.

You can use performance information collected from the breeding company or its agent to ascertain whether a breedline bought is right for its purpose. This must be information collected from pigs in the farm you are purchasing your breedlines. Unfortunately, this information can only be verified during your production process. Therefore losses suffered due to stocking of wrong genetics may take you a longer time to ascertain! This is why the reliability and faithfulness of your breedline source is very important.

The performance information to look out in parent stock females includes; 

👉 Average number of piglets per litter 

👉 Average number of piglets weaned per sow per year

👉 Quality of sow milking abilities 

👉 Number of litters per sow in a lifetime.

👉 Quality of sow fertility etc.

Where the above is in negatives, the cost of sow replacement is very high and thefarm can hardly achieve its production targets.

For the commercial herd, the performance information to look out for includes:

👉 Quality of muscling abilities, 

👉 Size of  back fat layer

👉 Average Daily Gain figures 

👉 Feed Conversion Ratio figures 

👉 Killing Out Percentage 

👉 Average harvest time and weights 

On large commercial pig farm operations, minimizing percentage losses to lower decimal points is very important for business sustainability. Don’t just stock genetics, do the necessary due diligence! 

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