A focus on good animal husbandry has allowed a Finnish piglet producer to successfully manage a population of long-tailed pigs.
Timo Heikkilä is Finland’s largest piglet producer and turned to raising long-tailed varieties in 2003. Despite the added challenges long-tailed animals present, he has been successful to the point that his farm was recently selected by the European Commission as an exemplary husbandry operation for long-tailed pigs.
Heikkilä’s farm with 3,500 sows, 6,000 piglets (between 7 and 30 kilograms) on the flat deck
and 1,200 gilts (between 30 and 140 kilograms) is located in Rusko in the south-west of Finland, 200 kilometres west of Helsinki.
Attention to a range of factors across feed, hygiene and environment has allowed Heikkilä to achieve his excellent results.
Tail biting is a major problem in piggeries but according to Heikkilä, the main cause of tail-biting is stress. To overcome this stress, he prevents all his animals from feeding at the same time and pays close attention to environmental control to achieve good ventilation. Pigs are intelligent creatures so he also makes sure there is plenty of material available to encourage activity and play.
Feed is also very important and Heikkilä employs a long trough system that provides a 1:1 feeding place ratio. Also, his animals are fed a liquid diet that incorporates high-barley feed.
Heikkilä exclusively purchases pelletized compound feed to avoid contamination of his animal stock with salmonella via the feed. Heikkilä also considers solid hygiene to be essential for liquid feeding.
“Our system is equipped with the latest hygiene technology,” he said. “It includes regular cleaning of tanks with UV light, rinsing the entire system with lye and cleaning the outlet pipes in the house.” This way, germs and bacteria do not get any chance to develop.
Another pillar of Heikkilä’s concept is a favourable house climate. To achieve this, harmful gas pollution must be reduced. In Rusko, this is managed in three ways: by lowering ammonia levels, by channelling supply air directly to the pens and through a sealed-floor portion of two thirds. The latter especially keeps down manure surfaces in the compartments.
For Heikkilä, providing a sufficient amount of material for activity and play is vital.
“We rely on straw, quite puristically – but it must be of good quality,” he said. “As soon as we realise the animals start biting, we toss an extra quantity of straw into the pen. This distracts them and immediately motivates them to play.”