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Time for a change

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

World of pigs By Chris McCullough Freelance multi-media journalist

Background Jul 3, 2020 Farm visit South Africa: Staying positive in times of challenges

Battling power cuts and poor national pork consumption rates are just two of the challenges South African pig farmer CP Kriek faces each week on his farm. However, maximising efficiency by investing in new technology and modernising ageing pig housing is helping Kriek control his costs in the constant fight for profit.

By African standards, Taaibosch Piggery, part of the Taaibosch Group, is quite a large operation. Kriek is the managing director of the group, of which he and his family – wife Gerda and 3 children – are shareholders.

Taaibosch Piggery is quite a large operation which is part of the Taaibosch Group.

The sprawling piggery is located in Fochville, situated on the border of Gauteng and North West provinces, about 100km west of Johannesburg. It is a fairly standard farrow-to-finish pig unit with 2,200 breeding sows. Additionally, there is a genetic nucleus with capacity for 250 sows. There is also an on-farm gene transfer centre for both the nucleus and commercial herds.

CP Kriek has modernised the farm over the years. - Photos: CP Kriek

Producing late-maturing finisher pigs

Kriek’s goal is to produce a late-maturing finisher pig which is a top quality animal that attracts a decent market value. “We put a lot of focus and value on a good effective finishing pig and pride ourselves on a late-maturing finisher,” says Kriek. “Gilts are mated at about 33 weeks of age as we prefer them to be slightly more mature at the time of mating. We carry out 100% AI on all sows, except for the odd one that comes into heat at a strange time, and we have our own on-site AI station.

CP Kriek is Managing director of Taaibosch Group. Taaibosch Piggery is located in Fochville, situated on the border of Gauteng and North West provinces, South Africa, about 100km west of Johannesburg. It has 2,200 sows for farrow-to-finish production plus a 250-sow genetic nucleus. In total, annually, the farm produces 48,000 pigs for slaughter. There is also an on-farm gene transfer centre for both the nucleus and commercial herds. The 400ha grounds include an on-site feed mill, fields for hay production and some beef cattle.

“We start marketing from 20 weeks, after we individually weigh and record pigs at 19 weeks,” says Kriek. “We don’t castrate boars, and all the males are marketed before 22 weeks. The females are marketed up to 24 weeks old. Our aim is to market an 83–85kg carcass or around 110kg live weight. All our pigs are sold to accredited processors or abattoirs in the Gauteng province. Because we weigh and market individually, we direct them to the most desired market. Currently our heavies, those with a carcass over 80kg, are sold for 22.75 rand/kg (€ 1.10) and the baconers, around 70kg carcass, are sold for 24.00 rand/kg (€ 1.16),” he says.

Variety of breeds

Taaibosch Piggery uses a variety of breeds in the herd to improve the productive traits of the offspring, including the popular names and some homemade ones. Kriek says: “We use Large White and Landrace as an F1 commercial cross as this is a good combination of maternal and terminal traits, with good reproductive performance and good terminal potential. We also use a combination of terminal lines, including Duroc for growth rate, marbling and quality and Pietrain for muscling and carcass yield.”

All pigs are sold to accredited processors or abattoirs in the Gauteng province.

He adds, “There is also the Taaibosch homebred composite to combine farm-specific traits which have proved economically valuable over the years, mixing Large White, Pietrain and Duroc.”

On-farm feedmill

Taaibosch boasts its own on-farm feedmill, which is quite handy as it is located in the main maize production area of South Africa and is close to the food processing capital. “Pigs are fed a mostly grain-based diet consisting mainly of maize, soybean meal and wheat bran,” says Kriek. “We have our own on-farm feedmill where we mix specifically formulated rations and produce about 1,100 to 1,200 tonnes of feed per month. Custom-prepared premix macro packs and other feed additives are bought in. Our farm extends to 400 hectares on which we have the piggery and land for hay production. The remainder is leased to a neighbour for beef production.

“We don’t grow any feed raw materials ourselves but have an agreement with neighbours who produce maize to deliver directly to our feedmill. On our own farm some grass crops are planted, which are fertilised with pig slurry and then harvested to be sold as animal feed. A small portion is used in group housing as enrichment and feed supplement,” he says.

Pigs can be fed individual rations via the Eectronic Sow Feeding stations.

Housing conditions

Good housing conditions are vital to a healthy herd as summer temperatures in this part of South Africa can climb to over 34˚C but cool down at night to 16–18˚C. The winter day temperatures are around 18–26˚C, but can fall dramatically at night to -7˚C in August.

“We use good insulation on roofs, automated curtains to maintain good natural airflow and often install chimneys,” says Kriek. “On the more sensitive buildings we include evaporative cooling and mechanical ventilation.”

Gilts are selected for breeding when they are ten weeks old.

He continues: “In my opinion a 75–100mm insulated roof with big ventilation windows and enough tree and grass cover is a very economical way of maintaining temperatures. Having sufficient water drinkers, nipples and an ample supply of water at the right pressure and temperature is non-negotiable in our climate.”

Advancements in technology

Kriek is always monitoring advancements in technology and gauging if any would help increase the efficiency of his farm; he has some improvements in the pipeline. He says: “We are consistently exploring, investigating and investing. Currently we are in the process of moving towards converting old sites to Electronic Sow Feeding systems. I focus a lot on the use and integration of data on a central platform to facilitate the huge amount of data which is continuously generated. This includes the production software we use, slaughter data, feedmill records, as well as ventilation and environmental data.

The farm aim is to market an 83 to 85kg carcass or around 110kg liveweight.

“Since we do individual numbering of animals from birth, we offer lifetime traceability. However, to maintain and administer that, I rely heavily on technology and innovative solutions to streamline the process.”

Labour availability

South Africa has a whopping unemployment rate of around 30% which, experts say, could increase to 50% during the coronavirus pandemic. Farm workers are in plentiful supply but farmers say it is difficult to find those who possess the necessary skills. However, Kriek offers good educational initiatives to help him find suitable staff.

“Across all activities we employ 110 people including management and support operations, as well as on job-sharing initiatives,” Kriek says. “All our employees are local or from nearby tertiary institutions and we continuously partner with these institutions to offer practical training and internships. We made a decision to focus employment on local youth and established a training centre to upskill workers and offer training programmes for staff children and community youth on various aspects of agriculture. Management live on-farm and our labour force live in town for which we supply daily staff transport and other support programmes,” he says.

Efficient housing conditions are vital to maintain a healthy herd especially with the heat of the South African summer.

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