Running a fully-integrated farrow-to-finish pig farm at Lombardstown, County Cork in partnership with his father Owen, Colin Twomey doubles up as Account Manager Swine for Swinco International with responsibility for the Irish market. We interrupted his busy schedule to discuss pig nutrition, welfare and performance.
Having worked with pigs all his life, Colin Twomey understands all too well the vital role nutrition plays in producing happy, high-performing animals. In his capacity as Netherlands-headquartered swine nutrition specialist Swinco’s man on the ground in Ireland, the Cork man is well placed to share his knowledge and expertise with his fellow pig farmers nationwide.
The fact that Colin has years of practical experience working as a pig farmer means he has an innate understanding of the challenges facing his fellow pig farmers and how to develop the feeding programme that best suits each individual requirement to achieve optimal results.
“We’re pig farming here at home ourselves,” he confirms. “We’re based in Lombardstown, just outside Mallow, where myself and my father, Owen, have a 200-sow, farrow-to-finish integrated unit. The pigs are born here and finished here; we do everything in-house ourselves.
“Having worked in a few pig units before setting up on his own, my father started out initially in the early ‘90s doing contract finishing, buying weaners from four or five locations and bringing them up to sale weight. He did that for around ten years and then around 2000/01 it became more difficult to buy in weaners for biosecurity reasons. Foot & Mouth was a big issue at the time.
“As a result, he decided to start up his own sow unit, starting off with around 100-120 sows and building it up gradually from there. Today, we run that business as a partnership.
“I’m 28 now and was always interested in pigs growing up. I studied Animal and Crop Production in UCD and graduated in 2017. For three years I worked with Kerry Group, which was a good experience, but I was always interested in working with pigs full-time.
“It was towards the end of 2019 that I started to work with Swinco and I now divide my time equally between Swinco and pig farming at home.”
In the early days, the Twomeys supplied their finished pigs to the former Galtee Meats plant in Mitchelstown, County Cork, but they have been supplying Dawn Pork and Bacon in Waterford since the mid-‘noughties. Rather than home milling, Owen and Colin use compound feed, buying in from Brett Brothers in Kilkenny and Southern Milling in Cork, with whom they have worked for a number of years and from whom they receive great support. ‘When you are relatively small like us, these relationships are so important’ Colin notes.
They work with Swinco to optimise all aspects of nutrition, welfare, growth and performance.
As Account Manager Swine for Swinco International with responsibility for the Irish market, Colin oversees all aspects for Swinco’s growing customer base in Ireland, covering nutrition, advice and installations. All of Swinco’s consultants are solid professionals who are well-versed in nutrition. This allows Swinco to provide customised feed programs which are specially tailored to each individual business, maximising returns.
As a global specialist in the management of farrowing pens and feed for piglets and sows, Swinco support feed manufacturers, integrations and pig farmers to optimise their activities in pig farming. This is achieved through their independent, thorough knowledge of nutrition combined with a wealth of practical experience.
Swinco work closely with a Dutch compound feed and mineral premix manufacturer to develop industry-leading expertise and products. This enables them to develop the most innovative product lines and research facilities.
Through their Opticare milk programme, Swinco supplies a complete package of liquid milk through to solid pre-starter products. The Opticare range consists of unique feeds, specially made for piglets to ease the transition from sow’s milk to other raw materials (‘gradual weaning’. The ultimate goal is a piglet that is viable in the farrowing pen, is easily weaned, and has a high feed intake after weaning.
Opticare products are precisely co-ordinated and gradually prepare the piglet for weaning. It is important for piglets to become familiar with nutritional resources other than sow’s milk. A high feed intake helps piglets to digest and benefit from vegetable protein and starch. In addition to high growth, this helps to ensure an extremely healthy intestinal tract with optimally developed villi. The end result: more growth (both before and after weaning), less stress, less susceptibility to oedema disease (E. coli), streptococcus and ear necrosis syndrome.
“Swinco was formed in 2009 when a nutritionist from Holland and a nutritionist from England, who were working independently, came together to form a new company,” Colin notes. “They have grown the business from small beginnings to what it is today – an international company with 25 direct employees. Last year they were taken over by De Heus Animal Nutrition – the third-largest feed mill in Holland.”
As a company that specialises in nutrition, Swinco can look after anything related to the nutritional needs of pigs. There are three main aspects to the business. Firstly, they are experts in farrowing pen nutrition, with a number of products and feeding programmes for young piglets for the first four weeks after they are born. These include automated and auto-mixing systems that ensure a complete supply of fresh milk to piglets as the need it.
Secondly, in conjunction with both in house and trusted third parties, Swinco develops premixes and, thirdly, they also produce a range of specialty products such as fish oils, fermented rape seed or soya.
“One of their taglines is that they do ‘nutrition with boots on’,” Colin continues. “We do like to be there on the ground for our customers. We like to walk through their farm and get a feel for what’s happening and what they need to suit their specific requirements.”
To this end, Colin covers all of the Republic of Ireland and splits Northern Ireland 50/50 with UK colleagues. Typically, he is on the road visiting pig farms two days a week but this can easily go out to five as he is on call as and when commercial pig farmers need him.
“We provide a complete nutrition solution covering the entire lifetime of the pig,” the Cork man continues. “Once you get the pig set up properly when it is a young animal, that’s how you get the best payback at the finishing stage. All the milk systems are made in Holland and I carry stock of everything here for the Irish market.
“They are pre-assembled when they come over and designed for ease of installation and ease of use. They are user-friendly and easy to set up and maintain. As there is nothing majorly complicated about them, the farmer can set them up quite easily.”
It’s important to avoid an abrupt transition from sow’s milk to dry feed. “We’d recommend milk powder replacer for the first few weeks and then meal or pellet, which is solid feed. While milk is important when the piglet comes away from the sow, you have to feed it that pellet so that it can develop properly. It needs to be trained in the farrowing pen to be able to perform after weaning.” Learn to eat, learn to digest.
“Swinco are also looking at an automatic cup system for the farrowing pen which would be able to feed liquid creep through cups as well and would eliminate the additional labour of manually mixing feeds,” Colin concludes. “All Swinco systems are developed to make life easier for pig farmers. That’s why we use them at home on our own farm and why more and more Irish pig farmers are opting to go down the same road.”
Account Manager Swine, Swinco International
Tel: 087 0699555
Email: [email protected]
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 11 No 1, January/February 2023