1.1.4 THE FARMER'S PERSPECTIVE
Lastly, we return to the final question posed at the end of Section 1.1.1 - the farmer's perspective, "What does a pig represent to a farmer? This question has been partially answered in the previous paragraphs. Here, we briefly review what the pig contributes to the farming family, on the farm.
Pigs are reared primarily to provide food for people. Under traditional systems, some of the pigs would have been consumed by the farm family (usually as part of a celebration). In modern times, however, it is quite unusual for families to consume their own pigs. Most are reared for sale, to be slaughtered and the meat sold at market. It is likely that the family will sell live pigs and buy pork meat from restaurants or the market.
Income and wealth
The sale of pigs provides income; the number of pigs kept on the farm represents wealth, or capital. The money invested in pigs for breeding or fattening may be less than required for cattle or buffalo. It can be returned in a relatively short period (4-5 months for fattening pigs), which most farmers prefer.
Many poor farmers in ASEAN countries keep one or two pigs (even up to 10 animals) as their "saving bank". Families schedule the production of their pigs so that they can sell them when they need money or receive higher prices. For example, they might sell pigs at the beginning of the school year to pay for school fees, or during the New Year season or a festival celebration, when the price is higher.
Most aspects of pig production are well understood. It is not a new enterprise on farms: any farmer who wants to raise pigs will be able to get advice from other farmers, the extension services and suppliers of feeds, etc. Markets for pigs and meat are well established and usually operate efficiently. There is likely to be a complete range of commercial suppliers selling pigs, feed, veterinary medicines and all the other items required for production. Knowledge always requires updating but farmers can be confident that there will be places where pig production is regularly discussed and people who can give advice.
Tolerance of different feeds
Pigs of all classes, except young piglets, can tolerate many types of feedstuffs. Some breeds can even utilize low quality and highly fibrous feeds. This is particularly important in scavenging systems of production - it has been a practice in some countries to feed pregnant sows with fresh forages/vegetable with small amounts of protein supplements. This reduces energy intake economically and improves the reproductive efficiency of sows.
In modern production systems, however, this benefit no longer applies. Commercial pigs must be fed well-balanced, high-quality diets. High levels of fibre or low-quality ingredients will depress their growth rate. They will survive and grow but at a very low rate, which makes production uneconomic.
Modern pigs are efficient converters of feed and capable of high rates of growth. This reduces the time to sale and the financial risk to the farmer.
A sow can easily produce 8 to 12 piglets per litter after a gestation period of 110-120 days (average 114 days), and may produce 2 litters per year, if reproduction is managed well.
Meat productivity is quite high, too. A pig weighing 100 kg at slaughter will comprise about 42 kg of lean meat; 30 kg of head, offal and blood, etc; 28 kg of fat, bones and scrap meat. Modern commercial pigs will yield a higher proportion of lean meat (about 49% of live weight), while traditional breeds often have a much higher proportion of fat and less lean meat. By comparison, cattle an buffalo yield about 38% lean meat at slaughter.
Intensive production systems
Pigs adapt well to intensive systems, such as penning and accepting mixed rations. Farmers find it more efficient, in terms of labor and space, to enclose the pigs and provide all necessary inputs. Other farm species do not adapt successfully to intensive management but pigs are well-suited to these conditions.
Production of manure
Like other livestock, pigs contribute a considerable amount of fertilizing ingredients to the soil through their manure. An adult pig can produce 600-730 kg of manure annually. The nitrogen content of fresh manure ranges from 0.5 to 0.6%; phosphate: 0.5%; and potassium: 0.4%. In Vietnam, pig manures are the main organic fertilizer for crop production, particularly vegetables. In some sugar-producing countries such as the Philippines, pig manures are drained from a piggery into an irrigation system used to irrigate cane fields or other fields and improve soil fertility.
Good utilization of wastes
Pigs traditionally have been scavengers. In the subsistence-based era they were raised as a means of utilizing food wastes. They converts low quality plant matter (sweet potato vine, groundnut and cassava leaves, etc.), animal by-products (shrimp by-products, fishmeal, chicken offal, etc.) and kitchen wastes to high value food. They are an efficient storage depot for fat, proteins, vitamins and minerals that would otherwise be lost.
Some disadvantages of raising pigs are well-known, including:
Because pigs have a simple stomach and require high protein feeds, their manure can cause problems for communities. If not properly handled, the output of feces and urine can contaminate waterways and land. The odor, flies and vermin can be very offensive to communities near to piggeries. Many cities now ban the production of pigs within urban areas. There are methods available to minimize the problems of pollution from pig manure and other wastes. For example, it can be used in the production of methane as practiced in Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam and other countries. However, the adoption rate of these techniques is not high - many producers see waste treatment as too expensive and simply dispose of the material in the quickest, cheapest way.
Pigs can be vectors for significant diseases which may infect human beings, e.g. Anthrax and others.
Competition for food
In many low-income countries there may not enough grains for people. Modern pig production systems rely on good quality feeds, such as grains, thus pigs may be competing with people for the same crops. It is possible to import grains from other countries, which increases the requirement for scarce foreign exchange.
Efficiency of production
The pig industry has made dramatic increases in production efficiency. This makes it a very competitive industry. Large integrated companies may hold a significant advantage in production and marketing techniques. Small farmers have to increase efficiency in order to remain in profitable production. This explains the reduction in importance of the scavenging pig system: such pigs grew slowly and usually produced a carcass with relatively high levels of fat. Their true costs of production were surprisingly high and farmers find it more profitable to change to cross-bred pigs or exotic breeds. These require good levels of technical knowledge and management skills, which farmers must learn if they want to remain viable producers.
Animal Diversity Web (ADW)
Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan.
Lawrence, E. (1989)
Henderson's Dictionary of Scientific Terms. Longman Group Ltd, Burnt Mill, Harlow, Essex, England
Nowak, R.M. (1991)
Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition). The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. (http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walker/artiodactyla.suidae.html)
Oliver, W.L.R. (1993)
Pigs, Peccaries, and Hippos. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN): Gland, Switzerland.
Savage, R.J.G. and Long, M.R. (1986)
Mammal Evolution, an Illustrated Guide. Facts of File Publications, New York.
The Ultimate Ungulate Page: Your Guide to the World's Hoofed Mammal Species. http://www.ultimateungulate.com/artiodactyla.html
Vaughan, T.A. (1986)
Mammalogy. Third Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Fort Worth.