Redesigning pigs: farmer breeds animals with more ribs...|
Redesigning pigs: farmer breeds animals with more ribs, more milk and disease resistance
Geoff said, Great show of genetics and how it can be used practically.
If consumers are willing to pay more for pork belly than shoulder meat, why not create longer pigs with more ribs?
It is perhaps a feat most would not consider possible but Jeff Braun, from Myora Farm near Mount Gambier South Australia, has been examining and redesigning pigs for nearly three decades. "A pig is very unique in that it can have 13 ribs or it can have 17 ribs," he said. "If we breed for animals with more ribs and more lumbar vertebrae, we can change the percentage of meat yielded within primal [cuts] in that carcass."
Mr Braun's obsession with genetics dates back to the early 1990s, when he saw dramatic financial gains in weeding out animals that featured high fat levels. Today Myora Farm genetics are so superior, the sows make dairy cows look lazy. This has enabled us to now produce a 100kg live-weight animal by 16 weeks of age, which is also some of the highest growth rates of animals in the world. "A sow has double the butter fat and double the milk solids in its milk compared to a dairy cow and when we look at the 21-day litter weights we are now achieving, it has to produce more milk solids in a day than the best dairy cows in the world," Mr Braun said. "We can alter the length and the capacity of that udder as we change the length of the middle. "By selecting for sows with 16 to 17 ribs we can get 30 per cent more udder capacity." Most sows at Myora Farm now deliver 21-day litter weights of more than 100 kilograms. "Europe is typically averaging 80 kilograms," Mr Braun said. "This has enabled us to now produce a 100 kg live weight animal by 16 weeks of age, which is also some of the highest growth rates of animals in the world." Myora Farm pigs are also resistant to E. coli and the next goal is to eliminate all respiratory diseases, along with the need to administer vaccinations.
"We can do a lot in [shed] design, planning and management to really improve the health and welfare of our animals," Mr Braun said. "Prevention is much better than treatment and it's another labour-saving thing, so it's all very important long-term."
After 10 years of planning, Myora Farm is in the midst of an expansion that will see its annual production rate, of 30,000 pigs, almost double. Twenty state-of-the-art sheds, with a 2000-sow capacity, will be temperature controlled and designed to make their occupants feel "at ease". "The plan has all been undertaken to minimise stress and to understand the animals' needs," Mr Braun said. "It's all straw-based systems where the sows will have the ability to conduct natural behaviours of eating straw, digging, rooting in the stall, within a couple of degrees of set temperature." Experience has certainly told us, as farmers, that the more we give to our animal and the more we understand our animal … the more it's going to give back to us.
Each sow will have her own feeding station and all food will be delivered at exactly the same time, to prevent scuffles and stop dominant animals taking more than their share.
The pig industry has long been a target of animal welfare activists and Mr Braun said his holistic approach was what consumers were demanding. He said the business of pig farming was entirely dependent on health, happy animals.
"Experience has certainly told us, as farmers, that the more we give to our animal and the more we understand our animal … the more it's going to give back to us," he said.
"It gives me great pleasure to be able to observe my stock and look at the contentment – and then see the productivity responses we get."