Pig farming improves its image (worldwide)

By Dave Armstrong - 13 Jan 2015 19:21:14 GMT
Pig farming improves its image (worldwide)

The breeds of pig that have developed from ancient wild boar lineages ae weird and wonderful. This woolly example is the Hungarian Mangalica pig, well adapted to outdoor breeding - and looking ready for shearing.

Mangalica pig image; Credit: © Shutterstock

From Polynesia to Danish bacon, the human population tend to pork as a prime meat source, easy to rear and cheap to fatten up. Affluence doesn’t affect the popularity of the ubiquitous meat, while the animal is regarded as a friendly-faced domestic. The trouble has been that the waste of large industrial farms has created chaos in the US and elsewhere. Pig farmers used to spread waste on neighbours’ arable land, but that land is no longer arable in most cases. Lagoons of waste caused the main nuisance when dams broke or rainfall caused flooding of the waste into river systems.

The less obvious solutions to burgeoning pig waste include biofuels, somehow storing the manure and water saving ideas. With 793 million tonnes of carbon dioxide released from pork production, we must not forget emissions controls. The need to green agriculture is often forgotten in the rush to state oil companies’ contributions, but this is a relatively low impact per carcase or even in terms of a carbon footprint. Feed production and waste management produce around half of the emissions each. The International Meat Secretariat published this report in 2012 in an effort to publicise how many countries are working to reduce emissions, but also becoming much more environmentally-friendly. Several extra nations are noted here.

It is not the US who possess the most production, but China, where it forms 63% of all meat consumption. The Far East generally rely traditionally on pork in the diet, with only 13.7 hogs per year from each sow. This points to a possible improvement in productivity, with much less feed required per animal when the reproductive rate is raised. Perhaps the Chinese are happy with their current methods, but worldwide, the industry is streamlining in this way.

Manual removal of manure is now preferred to spraying, in order to save water, using slatted flooring in the larger farming facilities. Biogas engineering interests in China have been encouraged to use household and farming waste as part of a grand recycling plan to improve “ecological efficiency.” In contrast, the US experience has more reported problems. The hogs in North Carolina are often regarded as a nuisance because of the pollution problems they have caused*. Along with Canadian hog producers, best practice is the keyword now, using appropriate breeds, and injecting manure to reduce carbon footprint with the use of manure storage covers to restrict methane.

Brazil has advanced in pig production by making farms larger, composting more manure (and carcases) where farmers used to inadvisedly use lagoons that would now be dangerous for the larger pig units. Less soybeans are now grown for fodder in Amazonian regions, meaning the land can be used in an ecologically-friendly way. Within Europe, Denmark stands out with the same environmental impact from 2 pigs that was created by one in 1985. Ammonia and other nitrogenous discharges are the most prominent waste problem everywhere, reduced here by half since 1985. Slurry tanks are a popular European solution, with arable farms still available for their use for fertilizer. France on the other hand has worked towards appropriate fertilizers on land, reducing chemical use and encouraging manure spreading, with streams fully protected. Winter nitrate-absorbing ants are grown to avoid accumulation of the fertilizer in the soil structure. The treat of algal blooms is a threat to coastal French areas such as Brittany, with a need to cooperate internationally on effluent.

In Eastern Europe, the tradition is to use Mangalica outdoor breeding, in the same way as this method has become popular recently elsewhere. Large meadows provide natural conditions, with barns available for shelter, Feed and fuel use is limited, along with the animals’ carbon footprint. The breeding stock has also been improved, using the woolly Mangalica pig shown. All producers are reducing soya feed use, with rape meal and wheat by-product increasingly used in the UK for example. The UK has now largely an outdoor pig sector thanks to the Ecopig project! Long troughs feed the animals better than direct feeding to the ground, while the ecological benefits of Hungary’s outdoor experiences apply too.

Also in the east, Russia has had crises in pork production. Lower figures were caused by lack of governmental support, with 70% of pork coming from small backyard production. Industrial production is now up by 60% with an obvious need for modernisation in the feed conversion and the technologies now being adopted. The pig is an animal we seem unable to do without, so it is fortunate that problems have led to a general improvement in the conditions the animal lives in, those we had to tolerate in communities close to the farms and in those CO2 emissions that desperately need to lower elsewhere too!