Ecoshelters versus tunnel ventilation in Australia

Much of the Australian pork industry the past 10-15 years has moved to Ecoshelters for nursery and grow-finish pig accommodations. Ecoshelters are hoop structures that use large amounts of bedding, similar in many respects to the hoops used by some in the US. They find it interesting that hoops have become primarily associated with the niche markets in the US while they are very mainstream in Australia’s industry.

With winter low temperatures only approaching freezing and summer highs well above 100 F, shelters were a low capital cost alternative to confinement housing that worked reasonably well. However, much of Australia has been subject to drought the past several years. In Victoria and New South Wales, the drought has broken, but in Western Australia, it is the driest year since 1914.

This means the cost of wheat straw, the primary bedding source, has skyrocketed. What was once a relatively cheap input into the production system is now a major expense. In addition, most producers do not have a market or crop land for application of the manure generated by the pigs in the hoops. I was at a site this week that had almost 10 years of used straw bedding piled at the site. In addition, land application of manure is tightly regulated. Hugh Payne, who is the equivalent of the extension swine specialist for Western Australia, commented that in some locations they can only apply 7 kg of phosphorus per hectre per year since their cropping systems are so arid.

The use of Ecoshelters appears to be declining. As the number of producers declines, those that are remaining are increasingly investing in confinement facilities. I was in growers and finishers this week that were tunnel ventilated using all US equipment. The thought by the owners was that investment in this type of facility, versus Ecoshelters, will improve feed conversion and allow for consistent control of the environment such that overall pig performance and cost of gain will be lower. The challenge for the producers who I visited is that while they are investing in US sourced technology, they have limited or no access to experts with the experience to help them fine tune the technology.

In the past few meeting seasons in the US I have been presenting a talk entitled ‘Hog Barns Don’t Come With Owner’s Manuals’. When I showed it to some producers here, they said it described perfectly the problems and concerns they were having in implementing the technology.

Without PRRS, overall health of the swine herd would be regarded as excellent by many US producers. Without the risk of PRRS, they routinely mix farrowing flows to fill facilities. However, they have been unable to get on top of APP (Actinobacillus Pleuropneumonia) and many producers rank this as their number 1 health challenge.

In Western Australia, wheat is the feed grain of choice. In the eastern states, they feed barley, milo, triticale and wheat as the dietary energy source. In addition, many diets contain added fat, often canola oil or tallow.

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