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Performance

Lifecycle metrics - unlock potential, aid efficiency and lower carbon footprint

Jane Jordan reports

In 2022, Pig Guide reported on lifecycle assessments and how measuring breeding herd performance in relation to sows' reproductive lifetimes, provides more relevant benchmarks when evaluating the efficiency and sustainability of a pig production process. These more advanced business metrics (ABMs) analyse actual production outcomes for specific parities or cohort groups and can therefore identify under achievement in ways that cumulative, linear reporting, such as those used by conventional herd recording systems, cannot. These ABMs pinpoint where potential is being optimised and where it's being lost - robust evidence that can help producers identify how they might improve husbandry to access more of the production capability of their herds and from the resources they have available.

Navigating inflationary costs and reducing the environmental impact of pigmeat production means pig businesses must drive efficiency at every stage. Achieving more from less is a fundamental objective for all livestock production systems and they will need to look beyond what their overall performance statistics are telling them if they want to improve economic, ethical and environmental (3E) outcomes.

Delving deeper into performance data, to establish the real dynamics of the production process and how a herd functions, will reveal a very different story than that reported by conventional, cumulative analytics. Whether pig production units are independent or part of a more integrated, corporate pork supply chain, the focus must now centre on identifying where wasted potential exists, how it can be minimised and how the production capability of the genotypes used can be consistently attained. The UK pig industry generates an abundance of valuable data, but it is not analysed or interpreted as well as it could be.
The methods used by most herd recording systems to report performance do not compute how wasted potential affects output or identify the hidden inefficiencies that exist in seemingly productive herds.



"The pig industry must reconsider how it analyses production data and explore where advanced metrics can help it harness more of the production potential that's already available. Using metrics that can evaluate sow's individual production cycles within their herd lifecycle performance on a per parity basis unlocks a new dimension of statistical exploration, and offers pointers that can determine the true functionality of a pig production process," says Stephen Hall independent data analyst and pig business consultant.

With 50-plus years' experience studying herd performance data he is well placed to critique the metrics used by pig recording programmes. He says most conventional KPIs, such as pigs weaned per sow per year, farrowing rate, born alive per litter, percentage pre-weaning mortality, farrowing interval, are becoming irrelevant to greater understanding.

"By measuring sow productivity across a one to five parity lifetime, a pig business can assess reproductive efficiency in relation to age specific cohorts and identify very specifically where lost potential is occurring. These lifecycle analytics provide a more accurate evaluation of how sows' function from the moment they enter a herd to the time they leave," he explains.
Tables one and two lists performance statistics from the same herd. Table one shows results from a PigVision herd analysis with good results achieved across all parities. However, what is not reported is how a fifth of total output is being derived from parity six and above sows. Table two details the percentage share of output in relation to sow distribution across all parities. It reveals how older females are being kept to maintain herd numbers and how this herd is not retaining gilts as well as it could be to parity five - evidence that raises key questions, such as:

*Why are older females, which cost more to feed, exhibit higher pre-weaning mortality rates and carry a greater risk of reproductive failure, occupying sow places that younger, more genetically valuable, reproductively efficient animals should be inhabiting.
*Why are so many young females leaving the herd? Could better nutrition, health care or improved condition scores during lactation and weaning increase gilt retention?
*Is the replacement policy/ gilt management routine fulfilling objectives?

Parity pointers
Total herd performance is a consequence of what's being achieved by each age-specific cohort; so being able to pinpoint exactly where most of a herd's output is coming from is extremely valuable. When parity-based analytics are used, as seen in Table two, a clear picture emerges of the contribution each parity makes to overall herd productivity, which creates more questions than answers. Stephen says producers that are exploring these more advanced analytics via GiltWatchTogether, an innovative data analysis concept he has developed that uses lifecycle econometrics to evaluate breeding herd efficiency, are surprised at the findings. Even high-performing herds, ranked in the UK's top 10%, have found considerable wasted potential hidden among their exemplary results.

"Using ABMs offers infinite ways to evaluate herd performance statistics and identify areas of underachievement. Traditional metrics like pigs weaned per sow per year and tonne of feed:kg gain, can't do this. These more advanced analytics demonstrate how production outcomes for individual parity groups are significantly different, where output is more prolific and how these elements influence a herd's overall productivity," he explains.

The herd-within-herd analysis that GiltWatch uses to define production outcomes, dismantles whole herd data and instead analyses the output/performance of specific cohorts. It provides comprehensive scrutiny of breeding herd performance and delivers a more detailed, 'real time' examination of sow performance in relation to a specific parity or collective age-range group, says Stephen Hall.

Conventional herd recording systems only tend to monitor average:top 10% performance and don't measure productivity in relation to sow age. The advanced calculations used by GiltWatch focus on output per lifetime and include metrics such as, average total pigs weaned per tonne of sow feed at parity five, a corresponding total weight weaned indexed against the weaning age and gilt retention rate to parity five, which are all critical performance indicators of a herd's input/output balance. When analysed against each lifecycle cohort, they can demonstrate the true extent of reproductive failure, along with other wasted potential and where it manifests.

Unretained, underachievement
"An example of how ABMs can identify hidden inefficiency is with gilt retention. Breeding herds rarely consider this metric and conventional recording systems don't measure it, yet GiltWatch analytics have found it to be a fundamental issue for industry at large. Pig producers could save thousands of pounds, if they monitored sow retention and prioritised gilt development, as their input costs would be lower against output revenues, says Stephen.

Defra census figures (1992 to 2022) show that the UK breeding herd now requires at least 25 per cent more gilts to sustain current production capacity of around 200,000 sows than it did in 2012, when the national herd was approximately 400,000 sows. This means the number of gilts that have achieved their objective - to remain a functional, productive part of the breeding herd until they're culled at parity five - has decreased dramatically during the past ten years. Many breeding herds are now running excessive replacement rates just to maintain herd numbers, which is expensive and represents a colossal waste of genetic potential as most new entrants don't reach parity five.

"A gilt must successfully wean three good litters before she starts to accrue any return on the investment made in her, so the fallout of inadequate sow retention is felt across the entire pig business. Gilt retention is a defining KPI and the industry needs to acknowledge this. The fact that UK sow retention rates to parity five are generally just below 50% emphasises how ineffectual conventional metrics are. Continually pumping more gilts into the system, only to see them fail, is economically and ethically unsustainable. And when you consider the advances made to sow nutrition, pig health, damline rearing/selection, service/AI and breeding herd management during the past decade, we must ask why this significant inefficiency has not been exposed and remains unchallenged," he adds.

GiltWatchTogether recommends a sow retention rate towards 85% at parity five, which is ambitious, but evidence suggests anything lower compromises a herd's input-output balance.

The Pig Guide, 4 Barleythorpe Mews, Main Road, Barleythorpe, Oakham, Rutland, LE15 7UZ
Tel: 01572 757600. ~ email: bc@pig-guide.com