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A breed apart

A group of British farming journalists visited Denmark in June to see the DanAvl organisation. The Danish national pig-breeding programme is now rapidly expanding its share of the global market for pig genetics.

Pig breeding and genetics are the foundation of any successful pig producing enterprise. This includes the purchasing of high quality ‘replacement gilts’, with a range of desirable traits such as feed efficiency, growth rates and other quality parameters, to replace their older peers as they reach the end of their breeding lives. As artificial insemination has now replaced traditional methods of reproduction, the purchase of top quality boar semen is also a vital part of ensuring the genetic progress of the herd.

A group of leading UK farming journalists accepted a recent invitation from DanAvl to see Denmark’s national pig breeding organisation in action at first hand.

Team Manager, Søren Bendtsen, explained that DanAvl is a separate operating division of the Danish Pig Research Centre. It has traditionally managed a breeding programme for the domestic industry but, in recent years, the organisation has been spreading its wings and is now rapidly developing its presence on the global stage.

DanAvl is responsible for the detailed programme of selection and testing of genetics. The system is currently based on three major breeds. A DanAvl ‘hybrid’ sow is produced from a cross between purebred Landrace and Yorkshire sows. This ‘hybrid’ is then crossed with a DanBred boar, producing animals which are then sold on to commercial producers. The system plays a major role in underpinning the quality of Danish pig meat as well and, as the vast majority of Danish producers purchase DanAvl replacement gilts and boar semen, it ensures great consistency in the pigs arriving for slaughter at Danish abattoirs.

The Nucleus herds, at the top of the breeding pyramid, are responsible for creating the original genetic material – breeding animals and boars for the AI stations. Multipliers then develop breeding animals for commercial production. All these farms are subject to a detailed contract with DanAvl.

A unique feature of the DanAvl system is its transparency, as all test results are put it into the public domain, so both the multiplying herds and commercial producers are able to chose their animals on the basis of this information. This facility is seldom available for producers buying from most other breeding companies internationally.

DanAvl has been developing its distributor network in the EU, Asia, US and Russia. The sale of DanAvl genetics outside Denmark was kick-started following the release of results from an independently conducted test ('Warentest') in Germany in 2008, on a range of breeding pigs available to German producers. The DanAvl animals achieved outstanding results across a range of KPIs, especially litter size and feed conversion. Danish sows are now weaning 30 pigs per year on average – and many achieving 35 per year. The royalties from sale of DanAvl genetics are now providing a significant new income stream to support the research and development programmes of the Danish Pig Research Centre.

DanAvl Chief Scientist, Birgitte Ask, also explained the progress being made in selecting the best animals by the increasing use of ‘genomic testing’. Traditionally, breeding selection has been made on the basis of ‘phenotypes’ or observable characteristics of the animals being tested. The use of more sophisticated testing of ‘genotypes’ allows much greater precision and is set to revolutionise the whole process of breeding selection.

The group also visited one of Denmark’s leading nucleus herds, Rønshauge A/S. This highly succesful breeding centre, with 2,000 sows, is a family business run by Per Kring and his son Mads, near Fredericia in southern Jutland. The original business was built on supplying multiplying herds in Denmark but the company now derives 80% of its turnover from the sale of breeding animals to international markets.

The group also met pig producer, Tom Oestrup, who produces pigs at Bækgaarden, near Odense on the island of Fyn. Tom has 700 sows and uses DanAvl genetics, with outstanding results, currently achieving 35 weaned pigs per sow year and looking for further improvements in the future. He attributes his success equally to both high quality genetics and the excellent management skills of his dedicated and motivated workforce.

Pigs might fly?

The following titles were represented on the DanAvl press visit in June.

Farmers Weekly

Meat Management

Pig World

Pig Progress

The Pig Site

Whole Hog

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