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Can we learn from Danish pig producers?

Can UK pig production be compared with the Danish, and what lessons can be learnt? Doctor Steve Jagger, ABN’s pig nutritionist, and Lisbeth Shooter, head of the feed efficiency department at the Danish Pig Research Centre, discuss the question.   

Many UK pig producers look to the Danish for ideas when it comes to operation and management systems to help improve on-farm performance. But, as Dr Jagger explains, it’s important to consider several factors before making like-for-like comparisons.

“When we look at the infrastructure of the UK pig industry, and the market dynamics of the sector, there are several differences to take into account which could help identify why there are clear performance gaps between the two countries,” says Dr Jagger.

“For example, the fact that our end markets are different is a big consideration. The majority of UK producers are rearing pigs from birth to finish, under specific contracts. Whereas, in Denmark almost half of all weaner pigs are exported to other EU states, mainly Poland and Germany.

“Consequently, in order to optimise returns and make the most of this market, Danish producers have had to focus on maximising number of pigs weaned per sow per year.

“This could be one answer why the average number of pigs weaned per sow per year is 4.89 piglets greater in Denmark than the UK. But, to achieve this, operation and management systems have been specifically developed in Denmark,” adds Dr Jagger.

“Alternatively, in the UK, production is focused on improving the efficiency of our finishing herd. A different skill set is needed, and genetics and nutrition have a key role to play here, for which advances are being made in this area all the time in the UK.

“Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) are critical to performance, and we can still look to Denmark for guidance, particularly with regard to improving growth rates and number of pigs reared per sow. But, comparing a predominantly weaner based system to a finisher system is not necessarily realistic, and this is something we should be weary of when comparing ourselves with Denmark.

“At the end of the day, some of our top UK herds are already on a par with Danish recorded averages, so the gap isn’t as wide as people often think,” he adds.      

Ms Shooter follows on to explain an aspect of the Danish system which she believes UK producers could learn from.

“One of the key areas that Danish producers are leading the way on is recording all performance data, and regularly analysing and using this information to adapt and improve on-farm performance, from individual feed curves to KPI statistics.

“We’ve worked hard to change the mind-set of producers in Denmark, and inform them of the benefits from using this information to their advantage. And, now they’re seeing the results,” she says.

“However, there is still room for improvement in the Danish pig system. As a nation we look for inspiration from other countries such as Holland and the USA, for areas we can learn from to continue to improve performance.

“Having an awareness and understanding of how performance data could be used is a simple way to identify areas of a business that could be tweaked to help decrease costs and improve performance. This is something UK pig producers can definitely learn from,” says Ms Shooter.

Comparison of UK and Danish pig production systems

UK farm statistics

  • Total pig holdings: 11,300
  • Breeding sow holdings: 6,000
  • Total breeding herd (head): 407,000

Danish farm statistics 

  • Total pig holdings: 3,861
  • Breeding sow holdings: 672
  • Total breeding herd (head): 782,00

UK building statistics and outdoor production

  • Producers must comply with Defra and Red Tractor standards for building structures and facilities
  • Pending ammonia and odour legislation to come into force from the EU
  • Majority straw based system
  • 40% outdoor bred pigs

Danish building statistics and outdoor production

  • There is strict environmental legilsation for pig producers to reduce ammonia and odour emissions
  • Majority part-slatted or drained floor systems
  • <10% outdoor-bred pigs

UK markets

  • Majority of producers fulfil finishing contracts, with different suppliers and specifications
  • 8.5 millions pigs finished to slaughter in 2014

Danish markets

  • Danish Crown and Tonnies (former Tican) are the two main farmer led co-operatives operating in Denmark. 90% of Danish pork production is through these co-operatives.
  • 28 million pigs finished to slaughter in 2015
  • Approximaely 11 million weaners exported to other EU states - mainly Poland and Germany in 2015

UK genetics

  • Majority of breeding sows are Duroc, Landrace or Large Whites.
  • Focus on fat levels, lean meat percentage, FCR and DLWG.

Danish genetics

  • Majority of breeding sows are DanBreds
  • Focus on FCR, DLWG and lean meat percentage

UK nutrition

  • Improving efficiency of nutrient utilisation
  • Feeding sows during lactation is a key focus area
  • Current ABN research areas:
  1. Improving piglet viability
  2. Transition feeding
  3. Relationship between nutrient level and performance response

Danish nutrition

  • DanBred genetics mean producers are forced to continually address nutritional requirements to get the most from breeding genetics
  • All phases of feeding are a key focus - targeted diets to support the gilt and sow during the breeding cycle


  • Average total pigs born alive per sow per year: 29
  • Average total pigs born alive per litter: 12.65
  • Average pigs weaned per litter: 11.22
  • Average litters per sow per year: 2.29
  • Average pigs weaned per sow per year: 25.71
  • Average weaned weight per piglet: 7.25 kg

Danish KPI's

  • Average total pigs born alive per sow per year: 35.3
  • Average total pigs born alive per litter: 15.6
  • Average pigs weaned per litter: 13.4
  • Average litters per sow per year: 2.26
  • Average pigs weaned per sow per year: 30.6
  • Average weaned weight per piglet: 6.9 kg

UK cost of production: £1.35 of which 58% equates to feed costs

Danish cost of production: £1.19 of which 59% equates to feed costs

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