China is a pork powerhouse with its enormous people and pig population, as well as its per capita demand for pork. Those factors alone are enough reason to keep a close eye on this market.

Last fall, I attended ILDEX China — the  International Livestock and Dairy Expo,  organized by NCC of Bangkok. It was held at the Beijing  International  Convention and Exhibition Centre and was buzzing with activity. Here’s a look at some of what I found:

  • The British Pig Association represented nine different United Kingdom breeding companies. As Chris Jackson, with BPA, noted, “ Exporting breeding stock to a new market is a laborious task, as veterinary  protocols have to be established. However, our efforts improved immensely after former Prime Minister Tony Blair came here on a visit. The Chinese want purebred stock with full pedigrees; a delegation actually came to the UK in 2007 to hand-select breeding stock.”
  • Speaking with Yu Yu, who is Asia’s regional director of the National Renderers Association, and a graduate of MichiganStateUniversity, we discussed feedstuffs. “Recycling used cooking oil, or UCO as it’s called, and including it in hog diets is big business,” he reports. “We import UCO from U.S. fast-food restaurants to use in hog diets in China.” Yu adds that recently UCO prices have increased as it also is in demand with the biofuels industry.

    He points out that Chinese pork producers can use UCO in pellets up to 5 percent; beyond that level, pellet quality suffers.

  • From its small beginnings in France, Olmix is now a worldwide company. While Mistral is currently Olmix’s main product, the company is in the process of getting M Tox +, a mycotoxin inhibitor, registered. Lu Nan, the company’s manager for China, is hopeful that approval will be granted early this year.

    “There are many large hog operations in China,” Nan notes. For example, the Wings group has 34 farms and sells 1 million slaughter hogs a year. In contrast, 50 percent of China’s pork still comes from backyard farms, with a few sows at the most. “Hence, monitoring and control of disease is very difficult compared to Western-style pig farms,” he adds. “Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (Blue Ear) has been a massive problem, causing pigs to die and resulting in a shortage of pork — China’s staple meat. It has pushed up prices and ultimately inflation. For now, efficient pig farmers are doing alright, but poor-performing units are losing money, due mainly to high feed costs.”

  • There was a wide range of equipment on display, spanning from industrial-size feed milling, mixing and cubing equipment, on through to syringes and artificial insemination tools.

    GSI had a prominent booth, featuring equipment ranging from farrowing crates to various feeder options.

  • The Beijing South Water Livestock Co. displayed some Melrose rubber, spiral, re-useable semen catheters. Young producers might be dismissive about using re-usable catheters, but in today’s world, think about the amount of plastic (and oil) that’s used to make disposable catheters and the associated packaging — all of which must be disposed of or recycled at a cost. This was an interesting and encouraging progression.
  • Many companies were promoting animal-health products, antibiotics and feed additives. One such company was Qingdao Ease Pharmachem Co.

     “Quality control is very important in our business, along with product testing,” says Liu Zhenhua, the company’s export manager. “Our turnover amounts to $20 million (U.S.) annually, with our products being widely distributed throughout China. Plus, we export to more than 10 different countries.”

    No doubt quality control was on a lot of Chinese companies’ priority lists, as was their need to emphasize that fact.

Following the ILDEX China show, I travelled about an hour from Beijing accompanied by Lu Nan, Olmix’s Chinese territory manager, to visit the Sino Dutch Animal Husbandry Training and DemonstrationCenter. This was a rare treat, as Lu Nan explained that visitors are not normally allowed onto the farm.

The farm, which has 500 sows, was built in 1997. It occupies a 13-ha site and has a 14-person staff.

“The farm has three functions: to train future pig farmers, to act as an artificial insemination center and to function as a commercial unit,” according Zhong Jingtian, the farm’s director. Training involves classes of 20 to 30 students, lasting for a week or two.

The farm’s genetics are currently comprised of Dalland-20 lines, Large Whites, and French and Canadian Pietrains. Operating a five-week batch system, weaning age averages 24 days.

Gestating sows are fed a 14 percent crude-protein diet. Lactating sows, which are not induced to farrow, receive an 18 percent crude-protein diet and are fed by hand. At farrowing, piglets are dusted in Mistral, which dries them off, reduces chilling and gets the piglets suckling faster.

Sows are inseminated 2.5 times on average, with 24 hours between breeings. Weaned piglets average 18 pounds, and receive a 21 percent crude-protein creep diet. Hogs are marketed at 242 pounds liveweight; the males are not castrated. Normally, hogs are castrated in China, but because the center’s pigs grow quickly they can be left intact without the risk of developing boar taint, Zhong Jingtian says.

All feed is brought in (as pellets); buying feed is quite unusual as most Chinese units mill and mix feed on site. There are no in-feed additives.

As of 2007, PRRS vaccination is now legally required. Pigs also are vaccinated for foot-and-mouth disease, pneumonia and E.coli. Zinc oxide was used to control post-weaning scours, but it has gotten very expensive, and so pigs are limit-fed after weaning to reduce the potential for scours. Fortunately for the Chinese, porcine multi-systemic wasting syndrome (porcine circovirus associated disease) is not a problem.

The farm runs a 40-boar AI stud. On-farm semen collection, or as they call it “do-it-yourself” AI,  is most common in China, so having the AI stud helps train students on boar semen collection and teaches laboratory techniques.

When I visited, the farm was receiving 90 cents per carcass pound for its market hogs. Breakeven costs ran 66 cents per pound. But high feed prices are starting to bite deeper into profits, so production costs will soon be rising — mirroring most other parts of the world.