DavsAIc: Boosting pig genetics for small hog farmers
At a time when natural mating was still the norm among backyard farmers, Nile David saw an opportunity for artificial insemination (AI) and put up a small AI farm to help small farmers boost their pig genetics. David Swine AI Center Inc (DavsAIc) has been growing and looking to serve an ever-growing industry.
After graduating from Central Luzon State University with an Animal Science degree, Mr Nile David got acquainted with AI in 1997 when he worked in a pig farm in Tarlac province. After six months, he quit his job and broached the idea of putting up a small AI center to his family.
Starting with two boars, a Landrace and a Large White, his first customers were his neighbors, who were traditionally breeding their sows through natural mating. Seeing the big difference with AI—the piglets grew faster and bigger—their customers began to spread the word.
Through word-of-mouth, the small AI center began to make a name in pig breeding within the community. In 2005, with 10-12 boars and a growing number of clients, the David family decided to take the business to another level. Nile’s brother, Dr. Oreste David, a veterinarian who was working full time in a feed company, left his job in 2006 and joined the family business. The other five family members also left their fulltime jobs to concentrate on the budding venture while the four members who are living abroad are helping with the finances. In August 2007, David’s Swine AI Center Inc (DavsAIc), based in San Fernando, Pampanga province, became a full-pledged AI company.
Bridging the gap
The company’s main goal is to bridge the swine genetics gap between commercial and backyard hog raisers.
“There is a big difference between the breeds raised by commercial farms and small hog raisers. The pigs of backyard farmers are slow growers, have huge stomach, long snout and thick backfat with less meat. So when they sell it to the traders, there is a difference of about Php 10-15/kg on liveweight of pig. Nile saw how disadvantaged the small farmers were because he saw how robust and fast growing the pigs were in the farm where he worked,” said Dr David.
He added that when he also worked in farms in other regions, he saw that the breeds used by small farmers “were very small. “They were only producing 70 kgs market weight whereas the standard at that time was 80-85 kgs. So our main goal was to upgrade the backyard raisers’ pigs to become competitive in the market.”
Through AI, the sows they use can produce better quality offspring thanks to the better genetics from the boars used. New born piglets that used to weigh 0.8kg are now weighing 1.5-1.75/kg. Mortality rate is also down, dispelling the belief that AI-bred pigs have higher mortality compared to native pigs or those produced through natural mating, said Dr David.
Initially, the company shelled out about Php 104,000 for the additional 4 boars and Php 156,000 to construct and equip its laboratory. They improvised on other apparatus: a prototype compound microscope with only one eyepiece; heating pot for hot water to be used for sterilization; and bottles sterilizer (for babies) to sterilize their equipment.
In 2010, they received a Php 988,000 loan assistance, payable in three years, from the Department of Science and Technology. The assistance was also used to upgrade their laboratory and buy the latest equipment for semen processing so that semen could last for up to five days.
Getting quality breeds
DavsAIc used to get their boars from different accredited swine breeding farms, but are now relying on Creekview Genetics, a local pig breeding company.
“We’ve been buying the boars from them since 2011 because we saw the disadvantages of getting boars from different farms. For instance, each farm has a different vaccination program, so we would have to adjust the vaccination of the other boars and that posed problems for us, particularly regarding biosecurity,” explained Dr David.
“For example, Creekview uses five vaccines in its vaccination program and the other farms have six, seven or eight vaccines in their vaccination programs. If we do not follow all those programs imposed by the different farms, it will affect the pig’s health. But it is difficult for us to maintain all of those programs. So we thought we’d just get from one source whose programs we can follow, have quality breeds and whose vaccination programs fairly match ours. Creekview met those requirements,” he added.
When buying boars, they visit Creekview and select 5-month old boars. They would check the animals on their 6th month and have the boars mounted to get their semen to check the motility. Boars that pass their quality requirements are bought but are not used until after they are vaccinated and when they are 8-8.5 months.
“This is to assure that the boars are already vaccinated before we process their semen,” explained Dr David.
Creekview Genetic’s meticulous breeding standards and their being in the top three pig breeders in the country has convinced DavsAIc to stick with Creekview.
“When they deliver the boars, we are assured that they are performance tested because they keep records of the boar’s pedigree. Plus, our customers are satisfied with our animals breeds because what they see in the boars is exactly what they get. Our customers want less backfat, bigger pork leg, smaller head, fast grower —not all breeder farm can produce that but Creekview has it. Their improved genetics has exceeded the standard 560g ADG and the piglets grow faster. So that’s a big plus for us,” said Dr David.
Production and services
DavsAIc produces boar semen everyday for its more than 8,000 customer hog raisers nationwide. One dose is equivalent to 100 ml (4 billion sperm cells/dose) and one sow is inseminated with two doses or an equivalent of 200 ml. The second dose is usually given after 12 hours when the sow is in standing heat.
Demand is high when live price reaches about Php 120/kg liveweight or higher but slows down when price is about Php 100/kg liveweight, said Dr David.
DavsAIc also gives pedigree and performance data about the GPs from which the boar came from, to assure customers of the semen’s superior quality.
“Other farms do not offer this kind of service. They would only give the parents but not GP and other important information that the customers need. I think it is important they should know the breed’s source,” said Dr David.
The company now has 100 boars with plans to add at least five boars a month to cater to the growing demand.
“We should maintain 100 boars and have additional five more boars every month to serve all our customers. We also cull once monthly so we are maintaining at least 99 boars right now.”
Aside from Pampanga, DavsAIc also has customers from nearby provinces like Bulacan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Bataan and Zambales. In addition to their office staff in San Fernando, Pampanga, they have 20 AI technicians split their shifts, each one servicing up to 15 customers from various locations daily.
Davsaic is also shipping boar semen nationwide since 2011 through courier service like Lbc, thru Bus to Bus terminal transport and thru Airport to Airport terminal transport. They would send the semen doses through a courier package in the afternoon which clients would receive in the morning or afternoon the next day. At times, boar semen are sent via buses and customers are informed about the bus line, number and time of arrival. The customers would then pick them up at the terminal.
DavsAIC’s 1.8-hectare boar station in Mexico, Pampanga has three building facilities with an area of 5000 sqm. The buildings are 200m away from the farm’s gate to ensure biosecurity.
“We are targeting at least 140 boars this 2019 and once we reach that, we will just expand into a second site boar station in Bacolor, Pampanga so we can easily implement bio-security and address problems or any emergencies faster. We hope to complete our expansion by this year or the next,” said Dr David.
They are also open to the idea of importing boars once they expand their facilities.
“When we were starting, we used to have six imported boars. Probably, if we expand our station next year, and there is an opportunity, we will import other breeds since there is a demand.”
DavsAIc is not looking to produce their own boars anytime soon but would focus on its AI services since their customers are continuously increasing.
“Our market is 75% backyard, 15% semi-commercial and 10% commercial. Our backyard customers have 1 to 50 sows, semi-commercials have 51-300 sows, while our commercial customers have 301 to 1200 sows. We are really enjoying our business right now because that’s what we wanted, to use AI in improving the breeds of small raisers. Aside from providing AI services, we also serve as consultants, we teach hog raisers, we conduct seminars in municipalities because we believe that customer education is important not just for the business but for the development of the swine industry as well,” Dr David remarked.
Boosting biosecurity and manpower
Aside from expansion, DavsAIc also plans to beef up its biosecurity efforts towards an effective disease control management.
“While we can’t prevent diseases, we can manage them and to do that, we should first ensure biosecurity. We should not just let outsiders enter the farm. The more animals, the higher the risk so we should strictly follow the biosecurity regulations and vaccination programs. It is good for us to source from one breeding farm to easily trace the pig’s health history,” explained Dr David.
The challenge in production, he said, is to be ahead of the forecast to be able to cater to more customers. To do that, they added more workers who sometimes work at 12-1 am to collect semen of a specific breed, particularly when demand is high.
While in the past, their workers used to multitask due to lack of manpower and budget, they now have different departments to do specific jobs: collecting semen, processing the semen, farm duties, administrative staff and semen delivery.
“When we were starting, I had to do all things: collect the semen, process it in the lab and sell it to the customers. Now, we have a set of people to do specific jobs.”
Because their main goal is to enable small farmers to compete with commercial players, DavsAIc is planning to adopt a franchise model to expand. While they already have company-owned outlets in Bulacan and another store to be opened this year in Tarlac, they plan to expand in Nueva Ecija and Bataan. Soon, they also would like to reach the Visayas and Mindanao regions and hopefully, export in the future.
“Actually, we’re getting inquiries, but we are just focused on the local demand right now which we can’t fully meet yet,” said Dr David.
The once small AI center is now growing leaps and bounds that they are not even afraid of their bigger competitors.
“Because we started small, we do not expect to be huge right away. Our current status is due to word-of-mouth promotion of our customers. We are getting skilled workers, mostly animal science graduates who can really help our customers,” he remarked.
“Social media too has been a big help. We are using Facebook (www.facebook.com/davsaicphil) to promote and market our services and where we get instant inquiries from people who become our clients. Our loyal customers are the ones who are posting their ‘testimonials’ on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/LahingDavsaic) so it’s a good promotion for us,” he added.
The AI technology is perhaps the answer to small farmers’ need of quality breed where they will not spend much but earn better.
“AI will be the trend towards improving production, breeds and profit of a backyard raiser without spending too much. A boar costs about Php 60,000/head, but by spending just Php 800, a farmer can get the same quality of the boar through AI. A farmer can earn Php 10,000 more in a litter of 9 market hogs because their sows will perform better than if they are naturally-mated, and thus they get bigger profit. AI is here to stay and we are glad to be part of this growing trend.”