by Simon Grey, General Manager Russia, CIS and Europe., Genesus
For superior taste you need fat, in particular intramuscular fat or marbling. There is a very strong (90%) correlation between intramuscular fat and backfat. Although today that means we can select for more marbling without increasing backfat, it does mean that in general pigs with higher marbling also have higher backfat.
For many, when looking at cost of finishing a pig, the main metric and sometimes the only metric used is FCR. Fatter pigs are recognised as having a slightly higher FCR (fat requires more energy than lean). Because of this, it is automatically assumed that the cost is higher. Of course, the genetic companies that have selected for ultra-lean (tasteless) pork and low FCR really push this issue when selling. This is quite rightly salespeople doing their job. No salesperson is ever going to say their product is worse than the competition!
In our modern world, this very simplistic way of looking at cost is outdated. 25 years ago pigs were robust and strong, low mortality, few treatments required and little cannibalism was the norm. We used also to have no issues getting people to work on pig farms. Today this is not the case. Continual selection for leaner and leaner pigs and lower and lower FCR has side effects. These today are becoming very clear. There are some other interesting genetic correlations that are becoming very important in our modern world.
Fatter pigs eat more. This is pretty logical when you think about it and is the same as in humans! This higher feed intake means it is possible and actually desirable to feed lower-cost diets with lower levels of protein (amino acids). When we look at the higher FCR, most if not all is compensated with diets that cost $10 to $15 per tonne less than diets required by ultra-lean pigs with low feed intake.
Higher feed intake leads to faster growth rate. This means more lbs. sold per pig and more importantly per sq. ft. of nursery and finisher space, the number one limiting factor in pig production. Heavier pigs, although a little fatter can still have more lean meat than their leaner lighter competition.
Pigs with higher feed intake are less prone to cannibalism. They are more interested in eating and sleeping than eating each other. Yes, fatter high intake pigs can show cannibalism, but conditions need to be really bad for this to happen. Anything wrong with housing, environment or feeding and ultra-lean low feed intake pigs quickly display cannibalism.
Pigs with higher feed intake are better able to deal with disease challenge. Any disease challenge will have some impact on feed intake. Obviously, if you are starting with higher feed intake, a reduction will have less impact than with a pig that already has a low feed intake. Fighting a disease challenge (or even a vaccine challenge) requires energy and amino acids. Pigs that keep eating when challenged can therefore mount a better response.
The result of lower cannibalism and better ability to fight disease leads to lower levels of mortality and lower levels of junk pigs at slaughter. Both of these do not particularly affect cost of production, but are very significant when it comes to profit (more lbs. sold and higher value per lb. sold). A dead finisher pig, or low-value finisher pig has nearly all of the cost of a healthy full value pig!
Another, and more recent benefit of lower cannibalism, less treatment etc… is related to staffing. Today it is getting more and more difficult to find staff to work on farms globally. The Covid pandemic has highlighted this problem. Not only is dealing with cannibalism, treating pigs, removing dead pigs, more sorting pigs for slaughter due to uneven growth time-consuming. Just as importantly they are demoralising for staff. Nobody wants to come to work to deal with ear, tail, and flank biting. Nobody wants to spend all day treating pigs. Nobody wants to be hauling dead heavy finisher pigs out of pens.
The availability of people to work on pig farms is only going to get worse. To be able to get people to work we have to make farms easier and more rewarding places to work. No deaths, no treatment, never any cannibalism will never happen, but keeping them to an absolute minimum is possible.
When you take into account lower-cost feed and all of the other advantages of higher feed intake, higher fat, and therefore tastier pigs, there really is little or no difference when it comes to on-farm cost/profit.
Having tastier pork for our consumers can only be a good thing if we want to grow our business both in terms of volume of sales and profitability.
This post was written by Genesus