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Vet on call: Before you invest in pigs, please read this

Saturday August 31 2019

Agriculture students at the Eldoret Agricultural Training Institute check on pigs they keep in the institution's farm.

Agriculture students at the Eldoret Agricultural Training Institute check on pigs they keep in the institution's farm. Pig populations in the country have been threatened by diseases, especially the African swine fever. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG 

DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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I am one of the persons who would be eagerly waiting for the results of the ongoing census in the coming months.

I am particularly interested in the exercise because I would like to know the changes that have occurred in the last 10 years in the population of pigs and donkeys.

The 2009 count put the national pig population at about 300,000 and 1.8 million for donkeys. Pig populations since the census have been threatened by diseases, especially the African swine fever.

Though the disease is now largely under control, it would be interesting to see how its outbreaks in the 10 years have affected the number of pigs.

Donkeys, on the other hand, have been battered by the emergence of four slaughterhouses to supply meat and skins to China.

Unlike the pig, whose reproduction can quickly replenish population numbers, the donkey produces one foal after about three to four years. This makes the animal vulnerable to extinction when the slaughter rate is high.

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Well, that is a story for another day. Last week, I had separate interesting discussions with two novice pig farmers who I encountered in different social functions I attended in Kajiado and Murang’a.

In each case, the farmers got information from their colleagues who appeared to be doing well in pig production.

However, in both cases, the novice farmers were not doing well. They wondered what the problem could be.

Ndung’u from Murang’a has been keeping pigs for the last one year. He initially started by buying pregnant gilts and rearing the piglets to baconer weight in eight months. He never made any profit from his pigs.

A friend told him it was unprofitable to feed pregnant pigs. He suggested that Ndung’u should just be buying weaner piglets and growing them to baconer weight in about five months.

The argument appeared logical for Ndung’u because someone else would have fed the pregnant sow and the suckling piglets.

SEEKING PROFESSIONAL GUIDANCE

The farmer, therefore, shifted to buying weaner piglets and rearing them to market weight. Unfortunately, this strategy did not make profit either.

He wanted to know where the key to unlocking profits in pig farming lay. Ndungu’s case is one of adopting peer counsel without testing the veracity of the advice. It is also about not seeking professional guidance in a matter that is highly technical.

I told him it was important to consider that suckling piglets eat very little food because they fulfil a lot of their nutritional needs from the mother’s milk.

When he bought the weaner piglets, he actually surrendered most of his anticipated profit to the seller of the piglets.

Any commercially minded farmer selling weaner piglets ensures that they get profit to cover the pregnancy period of the mother pig and the suckling period of 30 to 35 days for the piglet and the mother.

Further, weaner piglets sold off to a new farm experience translocation stress that may retard the rate of growth. This results in a longer rearing period to attain market weight and further erodes profitability of the farming.

No wonder Ndung’u was taking eight months to get the pigs to market rather than the recommended six months. The extra two months of rearing wiped off any profits Ndung’u could have made.

There are farmers who specialise in selling weaner piglets to grower and finisher farms and both stages of production are profitable.

Such kind of farming requires very high standards of record-keeping and management to accurately track expenses and also ensure there is no interruption in the piglet’s growth curve.

Ndung’u and other farmers buying weaner piglets must ensure that the pricing of the weaners is fair. I have been shocked to see farmers buying 40-day weaner piglets at Sh4,000.

One would never make a profit from such prices considering that the price range for a baconer pig at six months Sh3,500 to Sh5,000.

From my experience with the Kenyan situation, it is advisable for farmers to produce their own piglets and rear them to baconer weight.

INADEQUATE NUTRITION

This is more profitable because most pig farms are small-scale with 50 to 100 pigs of all ages at any one time.

Just like chicken, pig production is a volume business where the profit margin on each animal is low but the overall profit is boosted by large numbers sold at once and over a period.

When farmers feed a pregnant pig, they should know they are spending on their investment and not wasting money.

I told Ndung’u he should consider that his mother sows should ideally give birth twice per year and survive at least 10 piglets per birth up to baconer weight.

Sows that are well managed, on average, farrow about four to five times in their lifetime. That means Ndung’u could get up to 50 baconers from each sow over her lifetime.

This figure would even go higher if he selected some of the piglets to become breeding stock on his farm. Such action would reduce the amount of money he would use in buying new stock. He could also make further profits by selling breeding pigs to other farmers.

The other discussion was with Ngari from Kiambu. He started pig farming six months ago to supplement his other business income.

A friend who was doing well with pigs advised him to buy feed ingredients from the market and compound his own feeds to minimise the cost of production. Since then, his initial starter stock of 15 weaner piglets had all died.

Ngari told me his piglets progressively became weak and lost weight. Their hairs grew long and dirty. Some were curled and looked woolly. Some of the piglets developed diarrhoea but all kept eating until they died.

He added that he had bought sow and weaner commercial feeds and mixed with pollard, maize bran and maize germ.

He would then feed his piglets without limit. He wondered if he had been overfeeding the pigs.

I explained to Ngari his problem was mainly inadequate nutrition. He should just have fed the pigs the commercial feed at the recommended rates twice daily.

Weaner piglets are initially fed sow and weaner, grower piglets are given grower feed and finishers pigs finisher meal.

Once pigs are provided adequate feed, they will take a short time to eat and then spend most of the other time sleeping and adding weight.

The diarrhoea Ngari observed in some pigs was most likely due to low grade bacterial infection arising from low immunity caused