Ian Barugh has been NZPork’s technical manager for almost three decades but has had a lifelong involvement in the pork industry.
Ian grew up on a dairy farm in the Waikato, and while he retains an interest in all things farming, pigs have always been his focus.
He bought his first sow in 1963 at the age of 12 and before long he was ploughing up the road frontage to plant crops - mainly pumpkins - to help feed his small pig herd. His husbandry skills were such that in 1967 he topped the Frankton sale with a line of 10 weaners.
Leaving school in 1970, he worked at the National Pig Breeding Centre (NPBC) at Korakonui, running a herd of 180 sows. It was the start of a professional career in the industry that has seen him equally at home working with pig farmers, scientists, industry vets and other experts around the world.
“I really like the industry. It’s a small sector with great people and it is very efficient. You can make positive change very quickly and you can have total control over pigs’ environment in terms of climate and temperature, so there is no dealing with the vagaries of bad weather.”
A small herd of Landrace pigs had just been started when Ian joined the NPBC and this quickly replaced the Berkshire breed to produce the first cross gilt for sale to commercial farms. Sows were group housed with access to paddocks and the ‘new technology’ of farrowing crates to reduce piglet mortality was just being installed.
Ian was offered a scholarship by the then New Zealand Pig Producers Council to attend Massey University where he completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree. He also has a post-graduate diploma in nutrition from Massey.
After graduating in 1975, Ian worked on two pig farms, one in the North Island and another in Canterbury. Then, in 1979 he was employed by the Pig Producers Council as an advisory officer for the southern half of the North Island, providing on-farm advisory services covering all aspects of pork production, from husbandry, health, housing, manure management and nutrition to welfare.
During the 1990s, Ian ran Five Star Pork, a procurement company, growing it from 300 pigs a week to 1,500 and supporting supplier farms with advice and performance data.
For the past 28 years, he has been NZPork’s technical manager, based at Massey University, providing information, research and technology transfer to the industry.
Over more than five decades working with pigs, Ian has seen a vast amount of change. These have been around all aspects of pig farming. These include indoor/outdoor systems of production, housing, environmental control, low-cost shelters, bedding, hygiene, control over mating, AI, health, vaccinations, nutrition, and stock person training.
He has been involved in numerous research projects from the environmental area through to animal welfare. Ian undertook the set-up and validation of NZPork’s PigCare™ on-farm welfare assessment programme. He has also been developing and delivering the pork industry training schemes since they were introduced in the 1980s.
Ian has undertaken several overseas study tours with farmers and other industry representatives to pork industry conferences, trade shows and expos, as well as to farms using new technologies and systems.
These international connections have introduced science and technology improvements from much larger pork industries to New Zealand pig farmers.
“When I started, all sows were outside and farrowing crates were just coming in. I have seen vast changes in improving nutrition and health and overall efficiency, especially in terms of climate and environmental control and AI.
“Incorporating gestation stalls, moving from group housing to individual housing and control over individual feed intake and mating made a huge difference at the time. It meant no bullying and improved the farrowing rate, boosting output from 12-14 weaners per sow each year to up to the current levels of 26-27.
“There have been great advances in housing, climate control, health and hygiene, improving drainage and under slat flushing systems, nutrient management and the utilisation of nutrients applied to land.”
Over the years, Ian has seen a lot of genetic improvements. Pigs now grow much faster, utilise feed more efficiently and are much leaner today.
“There has also been the use of cross breeding to provide hybrid vigour. Breeding companies have been set up using sound principles of pig improvement in nucleus herds to be able to supply improved meat line boars and semen as well as cross bred sows to the commercial farms.
Technology has made a vast difference. These include computer-controlled feed systems which enable farmers to track how much each pig eats.
“We can use technology to reduce non-productive areas and tasks allow farm staff to focus on key productive areas and pig welfare.”
Ian’s role with NZPork also includes providing interaction and technical support to producers, nutritionists, veterinarians, and other industry personnel. He fills a key role with technology transfer, co-ordinating pork industry seminars and workshops and supplying technical information and expertise.
Ian’s recent emphasis has been on pork industry training and support on welfare, sow housing and environmental issues.
He says many of the challenges facing pig farmers today have always been there - but now there are additional ones to deal with.
“There are ongoing environmental and welfare challenges. The ‘biggie’ currently, is around proposed changes to Code of Welfare (Pigs) - especially around the use of farrowing crates, weaning age and the amount of space for growing pigs.
“Other issues are high levels of cheap imported pig meat affecting the local pork price and access and availability of skilled staff.
“High feeding costs have always been a challenge. Competition for land use means grain growers require a competitive price to grow crops and this higher price reflects feed costs for New Zealand pig farmers.
“However, pig farmers are very adaptive, innovative, and readily incorporate new technologies if there is an economic benefit. They take things on board, but they will need time to make changes and they must be able to do it at a time when it is economically feasible. You cannot just keep imposing costs on farmers with no return.
“I believe that when pig farmers see the ability to make change and that they can invest and see that investment will give returns, they will happily do it.
“They always look to future-proof their businesses and contribute to their local rural communities. There are technologies coming that will help with that, but farmers also need time to research, understand and be able to incorporate these into their systems in safe, practical and workable ways.”