Long established Darling Downs producer solves productivity and efficiency issues

In previous issues of Pork Journal we have covered Dr Peter McKenzie’s ‘Health through Stealth’ management system which he has developed to improve performance, welfare and profitability for pork producers.

His program includes basic tried and tested farm management of key issues such as biosecurity, stocking density and shed ventilation and the use of specific feed additives such as Clostat, a live Bacillus subtilis probiotic.

Recently Dr McKenzie visited two pork producers that he has worked with for some years, to see how the program is working for them in terms of productivity. He will be visiting two others in the next couple of months (COVID restrictions permitting) and we will be providing updates.

In this issue we cover the first farm that he visited and we hope to cover another pork producer in the following issue.

Dr Peter McKenzie and Brenden McClelland

Brenden McClelland’s forebears commenced farming at Bell on Queensland’s Darling Downs in 1874 and today he and his two sons run the 4000 acre property raising pigs, trading cattle and growing crops.

Under the banner of Eastern Genetic Resources, the farm has sold semen to all states in Australia from its Large White, Landrace and Duroc genetic strains.

Seven years ago, the mid-sized family-owned pig rearing operation worked on a continuous flow system and was experiencing some problems, particularly with Clostridia in the farrowing shed.

“The use of medication ended up by making the problem worse,” said Brendan. “With an explosion in E.coli
infection, we called in Dr Peter McKenzie who demonstrated the main pathogen was Clostridia.

He recommended a transition to batch farrowing and the inclusion of a probiotic in our weaner diets, after
dramatically reducing medication levels.”

“After introducing Clostat, we got results within two weeks and we are now in a stable situation.

“Initially we cultured the Clostat in low fat milk and sprayed the mix on the sow’s udders and dosed the piglets at birth and again when they had iron injections.

“Two years in and a five week batch program in operation, we stopped using Clostat on the udders but increased Clostat to two kg per tonne in diets through the whole production cycle.

“This reduced labour input but continued to achieve the same beneficial results as before.

“Other initiatives to improve production and comply with changing regulation and consumer expectations, included the adoption of a Nedap Velos electronic sow feeding system seven years ago,” Brenden explained.

“In the early years of using the ESF we depended on staff for gilt selection and training. This proved to be a ‘hit and miss’ affair, so 18 months ago we took a trip to Europe to visit a training unit set up by Nedap.

“After spending some time working with the training system we returned to the farm and put what we had learnt into practice.

“This was a game changer. We reduced labour input while being able to easily transition gilts into the sow herd.

“Now we were consistently getting gilts into the sow herd at the correct weight and age.

“Before visiting the Nedap training unit we were taking longer to get the gilts mated, or mating them when they might have been too light, which is not the best option,” Brenden said.

“Now we have a specific gilt training area so once they’ve had their first litter we introduce them to the sow herd and they go through the EFS following the old experienced sows with no trouble.

“So we are really enjoying the benefits of getting 100% out of our EFS system,” Brenden said.

So after five years of working with Dr Peter McKenzie’s Madec-based ‘Health through Stealth’ program and the use of the novel probiotic Clostat, Brenden’s farm is achieving much better in reaching production targets.

The Nedap EFS system has helped to reduce labour inputs in a necessary transition to group sow housing as has the use of Clostat in all diets.

“Medication on the farm has been reduced to negligible levels and only really used for emergency situations,” stated Dr McKenzie who carefully monitors diets and pig health status on the farm.

Pork Journal asked Brenden how he saw the future now that the pig rearing operation was running well and smoothly.

“We have 4000 acres of good Darling Downs land and with two sons in the business we can benefit from pig production and a genetics business, cropping and cattle rearing, so we can be reasonably optimistic about a bright future,” he said.

Dr Mckenzie spoke about the management system and how it came about. 

The system has its origins in the work of Dr Collin Cargill, who was a Research Consultant with the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) at the University of Adelaide and the work of Francois Madec, who clearly demonstrated in large-scale field trials, the value of the development of a high hygiene system of environmental control.

This involves less intensive systems of production, small groups of pigs at weaning, reduced mixing, all-in all-out production with very high levels of cleanliness, hygiene and barrier techniques.

“The question that comes out of this previous research, is that if the science and the practicality of Health by
Management is so obvious and the productivity is so good, why is it not used globally as a pretty much standard operating system as it tends to be in broilers and egg production,” asked Dr Mckenzie.

“Collin’s work was done at the same time as Francois Madec was working in the 1990s. Collin was able to demonstrate that if you had respiratory disease in a system, simply giving the pigs, all-in/all-out, as opposed to continuous flow, between batch hygiene, and better ventilation, you could control mycoplasma and APP when there were no vaccines available.

“It’s a fairly important point. There are sites in South Australia that have continued on with what is called the batch farrowing system and good production, very little use of antibiotics and don’t have to vaccinate for various syndromes.

“Francois’ first epic piece of work was when PMWS, which is a manifestation of PCV2 virus, occurred and he was a laboratory man who had got sick of working in a laboratory and looked at the risk factors.

“He discovered there were 20 risk factors in general associated with PCV2 PMWS and that as long the site
controlled somewhere between thirteen and fifteen of those risk factors the problem went away.

“If you only controlled a dozen, the problem didn’t go away so there was a critical threshold, a tipping point, where you had to get the management to a certain value or certain goodness and then things came good.

“I became a fan of Francois’ work when I had to index a case of PMWS in Australia and I was able to take 12 to 14 day old weaners which had been suffering from severe PMWS at a site where they were weaned at around 12 to 14 days, transported several hundred kms and run in grow/finish sheds and those that were double stocked at the start came down with PMWS four to six weeks later.

“We convinced the state authorities that we didn’t have a mysterious nasty disease, it was just management and in running these very young pigs properly and causing no disease, the state government was happy that we didn’t have PMWS.

“Over a thousand sows were shipped into another state into broken down piggeries and we ran those sows and their progeny the whole distance.

“The progeny were examined by the state department there who said we don’t know what the issue is, these are some of the healthiest pigs we’ve ever seen. Now we ran those pigs all-in, all-out in small farrowing sheds as close to all-in, all-out as possible, post weaning.

“We had one site where we couldn’t go all-in, all-out, a small one and it was a disaster, we had APP, mycroplasma, you name it.

“So I became a devotee of Madec’s system,” Dr McKenzie said.

“Later on I had a client with the most difficult E.coli with a very high percentage of pigs dying on the sow and post weaning. All the medications were useless.

“So we had to try to find better ways to deal with it and Madec had shown that if you took weaner pigs from a disaster site and put them into a site with half reasonable conditions, E.coli did not occur.

“We had the same experience doing some work with Mary Barton in South Australia. “We had our bug which we considered to be a very nasty bug. Mary reared the pigs in the challenge in a very friendly fashion. They were warm enough, they were dry enough, and they were heavy enough at weaning and it didn’t matter how much of the toxic E.coli she put down their throats, they never got sick.

“So that’s the background as to my way of thinking as to why disease is largely an outcome of management and it’s not an act of god.

“So why isn’t this system used more widely? he asked.

“The four pork producers who will be talking in this series, have all started from a very low base and it’s taken probably three years to get them to a point where they fully understand the science and the implementation of that science and are very good now at troubleshooting their system and knowing where the deficiencies are.

“So it’s almost like they have to relearn everything and the problem is, out there, in the broader community, most people don’t have the energy to put into that intense change of management and that to my way of thinking is why a very good system in terms of performance, which requires a lot more skills than antibiotics, tends to not be a predominant scheme,” he concluded.