As demand for pork rises in the country, pig farming is gaining popularity owing to its low capital requirements and high returns. Farmers Choice has come up with innovative ways to support farmers, one of them being the introduction of AI services.

Why did the company opt for new genetics in pig production?

The objective was to boost pork quality. We also introduced Artificial Insemination services for pig farmers in April this year. Results from the AI pilots have confirmed it to be a success as farmers are recording 90 per cent conception and 85 per cent farrowing rates, well within internationally acceptable limits. The average born alive per litter is above 10.

Your latest kids on the block on matters pig genetics are the Duroc and Maxgro breeds. What are some of the defining features and the quality so far achieved?

 In January 2016, we imported 40 animals (24 males and 16 females) to support our production. We brought in the Landrace, Large White and the Duroc. We decided to include a new one that we have never worked on called the Maxgro. Maxgro and Duroc are our terminal line. This means that the Landrace and the Large White will be our mother breeds, and so we then cross them with the terminal ones to get a three-way crossbreed, which is what we will slaughter in our chambers.

What is the ideal age for breeding in pigs?

 The animals arrived when they were between three and six months old. The ideal age for breeding is approximately eight months. So we had them for at least two months before we started using them.

What improvements have you realised so far with these breeds?

The first result we got was in August this year. We have since then been evaluating whether it is the standards the genetics company had given us or what we are used to. We have recorded an improved born-alive average. Our average before this new genetic came in place was 10.8 per cent (born-alive per litter) and now it has gone up to 12 per cent, an additional of 1.2 piglets, which is huge when you look at it in terms of pig farming. We have also seen very good weaning weeks for the piglets (we wean our piglets at five weeks). In the past, it has been a weight of 8kg, now it is up to 8.5kg at the same age. Looking at their growth performance, we might even wean them earlier. They have also exhibited very good feed conversion ratios at the weaning period.

What happens at the division in pig production?

Rosemark is the pig production division of Farmer’s Choice that deals with two lines of production – breeding stock and pig feed. At the division, we have 2,100 breeding stock and an Artificial Insemination (AI) station that holds about 24 boars. We also have a feed mill and stores in Uplands and Kasarani. The feed mill at Kasarani is meant to support our third-party smallscale pig farmers’ feed, while the one in Uplands is for our own consumption. These feeds are exclusively sold to both the contracted farmers and others willing to buy from the company.

What is the production capacity of the slaughterhouse in the Rosemark Division?

 Our total herd size is about 23,000 pigs and a production of 700 tonnes of feed per week. About 350 tonnes is for our own consumption, while the rest goes to third party farmers. At the moment, what we slaughter at our factory 60 per cent comes from pig farmers and 40 per cent from our farms. T

he general outlook of the company has been to support pig producers. What has changed since you embarked on this initiative? In the last two years, we have tried to reduce our herd because farmers have had a big interest in pig rearing. Many producers out there have decided to do pig farming the correct way, and have come to us to buy our genetics. They are coming up with good quality products hence our reduction of herds. At one point we had 2,500 gilts and now we have 2,100 in support of the farmers.

What led to importation of new genetics and how has this impacted on the quality of pig production in your company?

 Initially, we had been using Danish genetics that included the Danish Landrace, Large White and Duroc. We imported live animals from Denmark in 2003, and have been using imported semen to upgrade our stock.

However, in the last two to three years, we felt that we were missing something in the quality of meat that we slaughtered in the size of the hams, the size of the loin (what they call the eye muscle) and just generally the carcass weight.

For good meat production, one needs a carcass that can weigh as much as 100kg at 24 weeks. We decided to shop around in the international market for a breed that would give us both those key qualities we were looking for. Hermitage Genetics from Ireland, a family-owned business, won our hearts because it has the best growth rate, carcass quality and feed conversion rate.

What change have you recorded so far? We are now at about 40kg at the age of 90 days, while in the past, our own genetics used to weigh 27kg in the same number of days, a difference of 13kg.This means that we can send the pigs for slaughter two weeks earlier than before.READ MORE ISSUE 33 Smart Farmer