Hans Ulrik Jensen from Skov A/S (on left) and farm manager Jacob Søgaard Buus in the weaner section at MB Landbrug. Photo: Jette Beck
'Full steam ahead' in production with no dip in the growth graph
By Jette Beck (Translated from Danish)
Cameras in four weaner sections mean constant monitoring of the pigs' gain, no manual weighing, and maximization of the full growth potential.
Jacob Søgaard Buus, 30, is farm manager at MB Landbrug, where he has been monitoring data flow from the ProGrow system for eighteen months. MB Landbrug has a full-line production of 500 sows, producing 17,000 finishers at its facility in Nibe, Denmark.
"We've now finished ten batches, and it seems that adapting the feed mixtures and optimizing management have enabled us to increase the weaners' gain by 150 grams a day from 15 to 30 kg", Jacob Søgaard Buus tells us. The cameras estimate the pigs' weight based on their surface area, using images taken two meters above the pen floor.
Growth graph declines upon feed change
"When we check-weigh the pigs, the ProGrow weight graphs reveal that we no longer see any decline in the growth graph when the feed is changed. The check-weighings made by ProGrow stay within the three percent framework," Jacob Søgaard Buus explains.
"Without ProGrow, we do no see declines in the growth graphs because we do not weigh the pigs every day. When you see that something is wrong, you can react." Jacob has done an excellent job making changes to the management and feeding with help from the feed mill Hedegaard. "The pigs are now growing constantly throughout the production period," says Hans Ulrik Jensen. He is a pig production specialist at SKOV A/S and now works full-time on supporting pig producers using ProGrow globally.
ProGrow, developed by SKOV A/S, was awarded three stars at Agromek in 2016, It is an integrated system for the management and monitoring the pigs' weight gain, from weaning to slaughter. The images from the cameras are analyzed by an algorithm, determining the pigs' weight based on their top surface area. The system also records feed and water consumption, which can then be compared to the weight data.
Real-time data creating opportunities
Although ProGrow is yet to become widespread in Danish finisher units due to the proliferation of restrictive liquid feeding (the cameras are currently optimized for dry feeding), the system is proving its worth in weaner productions.
Jacob Søgaard Buus has been monitoring the data flow from ProGrow cameras for 18 months. Images and graphs can be monitored daily on the screen in the lunchroom. Photo: Jette Beck
When the pigs have the right age and a uniform weight, they will also have uniformly developed intestines. It means that they are all tolerant of and can exploit the protein and their growth potential.
"The effect of the cameras in the weaner sections is immediately obvious. The system is founded on real-time data, which is a major advantage. The daily collection on pig weight, climate, and feed and water consumption enables us to get an overview of the production, which means that we can intervene quickly if the temperature, feed and water intake, or the animals' gain is not as expected", explains Anders Amstrup, senior adviser at Hedegaard A/S. Since spring 2019, he has been monitoring developments at MB Landbrug and integrating changes to the feed change process and the feed itself. He explains that for Hedegaard, the primary focus is how digital solutions can contribute with knowledge to optimize agricultural production. That is why the feed mill Hedegaard, a part of Danish Agro, started its collaboration with SKOV A/S on ProGrow. Hedegaard believes that ProGrow is the best product on the market for production monitoring based on real-time data.
Change of feed delayed, gain improved
"ProGrow provides with a great deal of knowledge about whether the different feed mixtures work in practice. It is unique the way we can interlink data. We check the gain in all three phases in the weaner section and determine when the pigs will be tolerant of more protein concurrently with the pigs' age, weight, and the development of their intestines", the adviser informs us enthusiastically.
"One of the things we have done is adjusting the protein content of the mixtures and postpone the feed change to mixture #3 from 15 to 18 kg, which has paid off", Anders Amstrup tells us. Mixture #2 from 9 to 18 kg now has an extra six grams of digestible crude protein per kg. In mixture #3, which the pigs receive from 18 to 30 kg, the amount of digestible crude protein has increased by more than ten grams. Such a large shift in the primary feed would not be possible without data from the ProGrow system, allowing you to monitor the pigs' weight using real-time data.
"I must say, when Anders suggested that we continue with mixture #2 for an extra week, I wondered whether he was in his right mind," Jacob Søgaard Buus admits. However, the farm manager has a head for figures and was persuaded when the adviser showed him the decline in the growth graph at feed change.
Saves 40 tonnes of feed per year
The controlled environment unit is producing very well at MB Landbrug. Following the adjustment to the feed, the feed consumption dropped by 0.08 feed units per kg gain. Feed conversion of 1.6 feed units per kg gain means that around 40 tonnes of feed are saved per year, which we achieved after setting up the cameras and optimizing the feeding and sorting.
The use of medication is also low because there is no decline in the pigs' growth at feed change.
"It is easier to look after the pigs," says Jacob Søgaard Buus. He collects data from the ProGrow system at least once a week, while the screen in the lunchroom shows images and graphs from the pens with cameras all the time. Four pens in the weaner section are monitored; there are 30 pigs in each pen, and the cameras take 600 to 700 images per pen per day. It means that 20 percent of the weaners are monitored at MB Landbrug. Hans Ulrik Jensen highlights that SKOV recommends that between 5 and 20 percent of the pigs should be monitored, providing a representative performance overview.
Hans Ulrik Jensen from Skov A/S (to left), farm manager Jacob Søgaard Buus and advisor Anders Amstrup from Hedegaard in the pens where the cameras are installed. Photo: Jette Beck
No concerns about unevenly sized pigs
Jacob Søgaard Buus has also changed procedures regarding sorting pigs, which he thinks has increased the pigs' gain and well-being. The pigs are now sorted on day six, and just six pigs of the batch are sorted out.
"We're not as concerned about a lack of uniformity in pigs size anymore because we can monitor the daily growth data and see that the smallest pigs can keep up. But you have to get used accepting unevenly sized pigs. Sometimes, there is a four kg difference between the smallest pig and the biggest pig in the pen. It is a huge difference when they only weigh 9 kg, but the smallest pigs seem to catch up. And once they reach 30 kg, a four kg difference is not much, of course. When the pigs have the right age and a uniform weight, they will also have uniformly developed intestines; it means that they are all tolerant of and can exploit the protein and their growth potential", Jacob Søgaard Buus points out.
Another advantage of not sorting is that the pigs do not have to use energy settling the rank. Also spreading of infection is minimized when reducing the mix of pigs to a minimum.
"The only ones that are sorted out are the six smallest or the six largest. It is done alongside mixing three litters in one pen; i.e., we take out six on day six, and it is not done again. Our sorting used to be done at random. I now have control of the sorting process, and fewer pigs are mixed. When the pigs are moved on to the finisher unit, pigs from two pens in the weaner section are distributed across three pens in the finisher unit", explains the farm manager, who has been working for MB Landbrug for five years.
An extra three Danish kroner per pig
ProGrow can pay off quickly, as Anders Amstrup explains.
Jacob Søgaard Buus wipes down the cameras every day. He needs the data ProGrow collets.
"On our farm, optimizing production using a ProGrow data has gained at least three Danish kroner per weaner produced. The change to the feed and feeding process may well cost four Danish kroner per weaner produced, but if the pig has an eight-kroner gross margin, the investment will soon pay off," the adviser tells us.
Jacob Søgaard Buus has a head for figures and was persuaded when advisor Anders Amstrup from Hedegaard A/S showed him the dip in the growth graph at feed change. Photo: Jette Beck
ProGrow is not for everyone, he also tells us. He points out that it will suit those who focus on optimizing the production to get the best results and work with digital solutions, and for those who are willing to deploy resources to adapt the feed to the pigs' gain quickly.
The figures do not lie," Jacob Søgaard Buus adds. He points out that ProGrow helped with employee motivation, improving communication, understanding, and learning among the staff who work in the weaner sections.
"The increase in efficiency was only possible with the support of all six of my employees," states Jacob Søgaard Buus.
Will be available for finishers on restrictive liquid feeding
Hans Ulrik Jensen from SKOV A/S has gained a great deal of experience of how the system works for finisher production in other countries, where dry feed is much more widespread than in Denmark.
The cameras are not only used for growth monitoring but also to create an overview and to plan the day on farms with many sites, as he explains.
"Farms with multiple production sites use ProGrow to plan the daily work. The system enables them to quickly get information about the pigs quickly and determine whether something is wrong and where they should begin the day. You see which finisher units have a stable performance and thus don ot require focus." He highlights Mexico and the USA, which are very interested in ProGrow.
"ProGrow is unmatched. But to take full advantage of the technology, it requires some good advisers who have a close dialogue with the pig producers." He looks forward to more producers of finishers benefitting from ProGrow, once ProGrow is compatible with restrictive liquid feeding. He expects this to happen in 2021.