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New Tool Could Improve Feed Conversion on Half of Your Pigs by 15%

Taste Panel evaluates pork for tastes of boar taint
Ken Prusa, professor in charge of the Sensory Evaluation Unit at the Iowa State University Nutrition Wellness Research Center, provides instructions to a trained sensory panel asked to evaluate the flavor, tenderness, juiciness and presence of boar taint in pork from Improvest-managed barrows.

If you haven’t opened the January issue of National Hog Farmer magazine yet, or taken the opportunity to read it online, here's a little extra incentive to do so. There’s an in-depth explanation of an immunological alternative to physical castration that could potentially impact the performance of 50 million pigs in the United States. Numbers like that tend to grab my attention, and I can’t help but think you might be interested, too. Improvest is big news and a potential “game changer” for the pork industry.

Pfizer Animal Health positions the product as an alternative way to capture the value of intact male pigs while also managing the occasional issue of off odors in pork. Improvest is a protein compound that works like an immunization. It uses the pig’s own immune system to temporarily provide the same effect as physical castration to manage the substances that can cause unpleasant odor in pork from male pigs. It is administered later in life, which allows these pigs to grow as intact males, capturing the inherent value and efficiencies of growing intact males. Feed efficiency can be as much as 15% higher in intact males vs. physically castrated barrows. Improvest use achieves the same result that castration does, which is eliminating pheromone production in young male pigs when they reach sexual maturity, which is typically reached at around 220 lb.

Improvest was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011. Regulatory authorities in more than 60 other countries, including the European Union and Japan, have also approved its use. Labeled as Improvac in some countries, it has been in use for over 10 years. It is not a hormone or a chemical. It is neither genetically modified, nor permanent. There are no residues in the meat, no withdrawal time must be followed and there are no export restrictions.

Producers would need a veterinarian’s prescription to obtain Improvest. This helps to ensure the proper handling, use and tracking, in addition to making sure that users have received special training in how to properly administer the product. A certificate would follow pigs that had received Improvest to market.

To gain the benefits, intact males have to be housed separately and, importantly, packer buy-in is essential. Capturing 10-15% better feed conversion during this period of high feed prices is tempting, but you need to pull your packer into the loop as you make this important decision.

More data is being gathered regarding feeding strategies and meat quality, among other things. National Hog Farmer will continue to share these research results with our readers as they become available.

Half the pigs in the United States have the innate potential to develop off-odor when grown beyond sexual maturity. What do you think about this new product? Take the time to read the “Understanding Improvest” article, either in the January 15, 2013 issue of National Hog Farmer, or online here.  Does this sound like an option for your operation? For those of you in the trenches of pork production, what do you see as the pros and cons of this product? Share your comments with us online, or email [email protected]. It’s an intriguing opportunity. Join in the discussion.

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