July 25, 2009
Philippine Swine: Changing how hogs are raised, from the top down
Through the contract farming model, integrated meat to livestock giants will bring innovations in hog farming to the country's many small backyard farms.
An eFeedLink Hot Topic
by Gemma C. DELMO, with additional commentary by Eric J. BROOKS
It has not been an easy time to be involved in the Philippine swine sector. This year's outbreak of ebola reston has decimated consumer demand, resulted in mass cullings and blocked promising new exports before they could be shipped. This comes on top of two years of heavy regular disease outbreaks.
Nevertheless, necessity is the mother of invention and lately, there have been notable developments with regards to swine health in the Philippines. According to Dr Eugene Mende, senior veterinarian of San Miguel Corporation's Animal Health Division, Colostrum, the first milk secreted after giving birth, has exhibited promising results for the domestic swine industry.
New medicinals, dispensers, vaccines, housings
A technique imported from the United States, colostrum was previously shunned by local veterinarians but recent trials demonstrate that it produces very good results with regards to piglet birth weight and good litter size. "You just give 1ml or 2ml of colostrums and you see that the piglet is very, very alive. From that sense, aside from measuring at weaning, you have more pigs weaned, you have better weights at weaning," Mende said, adding that colostrum will help minimise the early culling of pigs due to poor birth weights.
Mende also added that the country is anticipating the development of new vaccines, which should help control outbreaks that occur on an almost regular basis. "I think we have good performances for the circovirus vaccines and other swine flu vaccines. A lot of Philippine farms are using it right now."
In addition to new medicines and supplements, Dr Michael Pasco, product manager for Cargill Animal Nutrition Philippines, noted the recent importation of several technical innovations, such as medication dispensing through advanced water dosing systems, automated climate controlled hog housings and the use of probiotics. These systems, he says, have been maintained by livestock producers as this have spawned excellent results at integrated hog farms.
Ebola, PRRS, spur greater use of supplements, medicinals
Meanwhile, in the light of recent ebola reston virus and PRRS (porcine reproductive respiratory syndrome) outbreaks, animal health authorities are turning to antibiotics, antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) or acidifiers as remedies to these maladies.
According to Pasco, the emergence of diseases has increased the medicinal role antibiotics, even though AGPs themselves are now becoming obsolete in the country. Yet, as we shall see, although infrastructure deficits are delaying their complete phasing out, eventually, they too must bend to the laws of nature.
The Philippine outbreak of Ebola reston virus shown is spurring the adoption of newer, sustainable hog farming techniques
On one hand, the adverse, long-term effects of AGPs and antibiotics are well known. Indeed, it is suspected that many past Philippine swine disease outbreaks have their roots in 'super-bacteria' which acquired its resistance from being overexposed to antibiotics. With antibiotics being implicated in the development of treatment-resistant pathogens, there has been mounting pressure to find sustainable alternatives.
This has brought forth a new trend of using organic acidifiers and essential herbal oils in place of AGPs. Mende however, does have misgivings about the uncritical use of these new supplements. "I think we really need to do more long-term testing for herbal supplements because they might work well against stress, against poor performance but for how long." In light of his comments however, it must be said that even traditional antibiotics have a limited life, after which bacteria do develop resistance.
Nevertheless, Mende did laud the promising results of oregano mixed together with electrolytes. "We've proven that it increases feed intake, particularly in sows at birth and piglets at weaning. And I also think that immunity [derived from using this supplement] is proven but in our farms, we still have to do in-depth, in-vivo trials of oregano on a long-term basis."
Mende also notes that probiotic AGPs are now becoming popular among livestock producers because they are well-absorbed by the intestines and other swine tissues. Hence, they do not leave any residues in meat and minimize water pollution arising from animal waste.
This is not to say that the bad old days of abusing conventional supplements are completely over. Mende says that, "Use of banned additives is not rampant but when I go to farms, I see this from time to time. There has to be strict mandates to control the use of these drugs. You still see meat enhancers that are not supposedly to be used and policing power should be increased."
Natural supplements' land & infrastructure needs hold back acceptance
With regards to the ongoing global transition to more natural supplements, the Philippines is caught in the same predicament as China. First, consumers are highly price sensitive, preferring low prices over high quality. Conventional AGPs and supplements promise greater production at a lower cost. Acidifiers and essential herbal oils enhance meat quality, livestock health and human safety but lead to higher production costs. Consequently, Pasco stated that organic vitamins, essential oils and organic trace minerals are gaining only limited acceptance, as they are considered costly.
Indeed, one factor inflating the cost of natural supplements is their greater land and infrastructure needs relative to conventional remedies. Despite the dangerous long-term effects of their overuse, antibiotics and AGPs allow farmers to squeeze an abnormally high number of swine into overcrowded housings. While this is morally reprehensible in principle, it cannot be denied that such measures help keep down the price of pork.
On the other hand, the new generation of supplements require more natural environments and lower hog housing densities to work properly. Needless to say, this will give such hog farms higher fixed costs. This, as much of the cost of the supplements themselves, is why many Philippine farms consider natural supplements too costly a means of pork production.
Not surprisingly, Mende said traditional supplements only work in well-managed farms and not on areas with a high incidence of diseases, poor air flow or crowded swine. "Traditional supplements can't stand against the poor management and influx of diseases in the farms. But in Europe, non-AGPs and herbal supplements could only work in well-managed, low density, low incidence of disease farms. You will only need medication and vaccination if diseases erupt. In areas that are disease-prone with poorly built housing, natural supplements can't hold out against it."
Diseases: An opportunity
The need for proper livestock dwellings

Scenes from typical backyard Philippine hog farms. Dirty, decrepit housings and the possibility of cross-species encounters make it impossible for natural supplements to work effectively
Yet, if disease outbreaks are to be truly brought under control, the Philippines must still address a problem made obvious by the infrastructure demands of natural supplements.
The terrible state of backyard hog farm housings are almost always pointed as culprits in disease outbreaks. "A lot should change and change should come from understanding," tells Mende. "I think its about time that we understand that these things are consequential: Housing, spacing, air quality, ventilation, control of ammonia levels inside farms, adjustment of density and the development of immunity in farms." 
Mende explains the reason why local herds are easily infected or outbreaks spread fast is because housing is not structured towards good management. "A lot of farmers go into business only because they think it is profitable but they do not understand these things. They do not understand that diseases are evolving and so our buildings and houses should also adapt."  Pasco said taller hog housings are no longer better, adding that integrated farms have shifted to concepts of insulation with proper air flow systems and mechanical ventilation.
Mende said San Miguel's contract farms have already implemented segregated parity farrowing. San Miguel has also adopted the multiple housing system wherein breeding herds are segregated from the nursery and growing finisher hogs. This, says Mende, are systems which have been proven to be effective in controlling outbreaks.
He explains that, "If you want efficiency, you should have a separate site for your breeding herds and grow-outs; or probably just a simple separate site for your breeding herds and grow-outs. Precisely because you do not want diseases to cut across building sites. It is easy to manage diseases when you only have the same immunity within herds. It is easier to control disease that way," concludes Mende.
Sadly, Mende says that a lot of backyard farms are using the one-house system and only commercial producers have adapted to these multiple house system. This is a great challenge, as the majority of the country's hogs remain in these backward, overcrowded backyard operations.  
Change is coming
Despite all these difficulties, necessity is the mother of invention and the disease challenges of the last few years are forcing Philippine hog producers to raise the bar of minimal standards. Partly because overpopulation has limited farm land space in the face of all-time human populations, things are reaching a head. The demand for pork has never been higher but available land space is constant or shrinking.
What Pasco, Mende and their colleagues in the Philippine hog sector imply is that to meat the demands of a market with 100 million in a land space so small, simple reliance on traditional AGPs and antibiotics will not do. For a host of reasons involving human safety, the development of dangerous, untreatable pathogens and environment, they are unsustainable. At the same time, proven natural based supplements and remedies require a redesign of how hogs are raised, right down the way they are housed.
In a country with an endless number of undercapitalized, small hog farms, the contract farming model becomes an important avenue of introducing new supplements and hog raising techniques. San Miguel and its technically up to date, well-financed rivals will play a vital role in introducing a new generation of sustainable livestock housings, hog raising techniques and complimentary, natural based supplements and medicinals.
However, a paradigm shift in the values of meat and livestock producers is also required. What is needed, above all else is an understanding of the following: Crowding too many hogs or different livestock possible into the smallest space, rather than raising profitability, will, over the long run, overtake antibiotics and make the industry unsustainable. In this context, the integrated Philippine livestock majors are tasked by the market with introducing these new techniques and providing for their financing among their smaller contract farming suppliers.
Indeed, large, domestic Philippine hog producers may no longer have a choice in the matter. One thing is for sure: With the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement due to be implemented next year, if home grown Philippine giants do not bring the backyard hog sector up to speed, the market could do it for them: Foreign rivals such as CP and Betagro, sensing an opportunity, may choose to do it themselves.
Given the present model's unsustainability and the market forces being brought to bear upon it, a change in the supplements given and housings provided to Philippine swine is pretty well inevitable.

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