Among the vast array of agricultural fairs and trade shows taking place, EuroTier held in Hanover, Germany, is the biggest and arguably the best livestock show in the world. This year, 130,000 visitors attended the event, with many coming from overseas — a bit surprising given the state of the world economy. Farms everywhere are becoming larger and producer numbers are declining; consequently, a single farm representative has much greater buying power today than 10 years ago.

Germany has a huge pig industry, but even its breeding herd has dropped by about 5 percent recently. According to Fergus Neher, who works for the Austrian company Biomin, Germans producing weaned pigs are losing about $10 per pig, while pig finishers are holding their own. Small pig farms in southern Germany are going out of business; conversely units in the north are expanding. Environmental legislation is increasing and any new hog-finishing barns must now incorporate cleaning systems to reduce dust, ammonia and odors. Naturally this adds costs to any new building project.

At the EuroTier show there was the usual wide range of medal-winning new products. Austrian company Schauer Agrotonic GmbH received a gold medal for its Argus Welfare System. Loose housing for gestation sows (28 days after breeding) will be required in the EU after 2012. Many sows are already being kept in large groups versus gestation stalls. Finding one sow in a group can be difficult and time consuming. That’s where the Argus concept comes in; it’s an electronic tracking system, so that a sow’s movements and location can be pinpointed. The system also flags ill sows and those in estrus, as well as tracks feed-intake patterns.

Artificial insemination is now the norm, and keeping semen at the correct temperature is vital to ensure sperm viability. German company Genosenschaft zur Foderung der Schweinehaltung e.G. took a silver medal for its GFS-Temcheck system. It’s a simple system, using a color change to indicate if the sperm and diluent temperature is not within a given range.

M.S.Schippers sells a vast range of small-pig equipment across Europe. At EuroTier it exhibited its piglet CO2/02 anaesthetizing equipment called MS Pigsleeper. In many European countries, castrating piglets raises much concern because of the pain and stress it causes the pig. Welfarists want castration banned but, at the very least, for the pig industry to use technology that reduces the piglet’s pain. 

“Three devices were tested in Holland, and the MS Pigsleeper came out top,” reports Schippers’ Erny Duis. “We have already sold 1,300 sets. A 5-gallon carbon dioxide cylinder will treat 1,000, 2- to 3-day-old piglets. A traffic-light-type mechanism switches from red to green when the piglet has received sufficient gas.” Schippers trains Dutch pig farmers to use the equipment, after which the farmer receives a competence certificate from the Dutch Pig Farmers Association. In fact, after March 1, all piglets in Holland will be castrated under anesthetic. The Swiss are using a similar device, but it uses isoflurane, with a veterinarian supervising the task.

Ensuring that a lactating sow is fed correctly is vitally important to minimize weight loss and ensure that it milks well. Mannebeck exhibited its Artemis system, which uses technology to ensure the sow is properly fed and watered. Sows often leave feed in the trough, which has to be scooped out and discarded. The Artemis system has a probe in the trough that can tell if uneaten feed is accumulating. A feedback mechanism then reduces the sow’s feed supply. Water intake also can be measured automatically, so it’s possible to check for any sows not drinking. Artemis incorporates a hand-held terminal, which picks up data from a contact located at the side of the farrowing pen. Using the terminal, a technician can check the sow’s feed and water intake as he walks through the farrowing barn.

Denmark’s big livestock trade fair, Agromek, followed EuroTier by just two weeks. The credit crunch has affected Denmark just like any country, and farmers are finding it difficult to borrow money.

Denmark’s pig numbers fell 7.4 percent from 2007 to 2008. Pork consumption is down and pig prices in November were 10 percent lower than expected. Pork prices are forecast to rise in 2009 but a bit later than previously forecast due to the credit crunch. As far as exports are concerned, the fact that the yen follows the U.S. dollar is good for Denmark’s pork exports. However, the value of Great Britain’s pound has dropped, which tempers that good news.

Danish pork production is forecast to fall about 7 percent in 2009, and 10 percent to 15 percent of the producers will leave the industry. Applications for new buildings and farm expansion are taking longer to process, many by more than two years. Peter Hansen, Agromek exhibition committee chairman, adds that municipal authorities lack the expertise and manpower to process the applications; plus they don’t interpret the regulations uniformly. A flow of new legislation is compounding the problems; the government has yet to issue precise regulations concerning ammonia-emission-reduction practices.

“Legislation and red tape are strangling Danish agriculture. If these anomalies are not sorted out quickly then agriculture and the country’s economy will be irreparably damaged,” Hansen adds. Land prices have already dropped 20 percent.

Problems with slurry disposal have caused many Danish producers to shift to weaned-pig production, and 6 million weaned pigs are exported annually to Germany. Many Danish producers also ship slaughter hogs to Germany as prices are better than the Danish crown’s offer.

The Danish breeding organization, Danbred International, continues to do well as it exported 40,000 gilts in 2008, many to Russia. Danbred has further reason to be pleased as it led a breeding company comparison trial in northern Germany. 

The Agromek show had the usual variety of new products. Given Europe’s concerns about farrowing crates, it’s good to see companies continually modifying existing designs. Sdr. Vissing Staldinventar A/S had its 2008 Combisti model on display. A new design has eliminated the rear-crate supports, which gives piglets easier access to teats and, hopefully, increased milk intake. It features a creep area on each side of the sow, with a total area of 1 square yard. Only one creep area is used initially; when piglets are about 10 days old both areas are accessible.

Broken needles remain a concern, even though producers work to ensure that any are removed before slaughter. Still, some carcasses end up with a broken needle. To avoid this, Grene A/S has developed its range of Toku–E needles, featuring a collar surrounding the needle barrel. If a needle breaks, the collar remains attached to the  barrel, making it easy to see and remove.

Manure slurry used to be considered a nuisance, but today it’s a power source and has fertilizer value as commercial fertilizer prices have soared. Thyregod A/S presented an alternative to injection called Biocover where 5 percent to 10 percent of the slurry is treated with sulphuric acid and a foaming agent. It is applied through a drag-hose over slurry to act as a seal. The acid reduces evaporation while the foam reduces smell.

While the Danish, German and global pork industries deal with economic challenges, a positive note is that companies continue to present new products that make on-farm tasks easier and more efficient.