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Last update: May 2021

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Modelling a pig farming system to simulate its economic and environmental sustainability

Thesis: Modelling a pig farming system to simulate its economic and environmental sustainability
How interactions between the pig unit structure, the farming practices and the animal characteristics design performance and sustainability of pig farms?

The sustainability of livestock: a complex issue

Today’s society implemented sustainability standards enforced worldwide. Pig farmers have to respect them and face a serious issue: manage their farms in order to maintain or improve their standard of living (income, working time) but also the sustainability of livestock production.
By “animal production sustainability” we mean its ability to fulfill aims of economic performance (ensure the profitability of the farm), environmental result (reduction of impacts, emissions), and social result (societal acceptance, liveability of the farmer’s work).
The economic and environmental results of pig farming depend on animal’s reproduction and growth performance, on farmer management and practices, on buildings organization and occupancy, on feed formulation and consumption, on the herd health, etc.
Given the livestock farming system complexity (see image 1) it is not possible to accurately predict the impact of a change of structure, management or genetic level on the technico-economic result and environmental impacts of pig farms.
The French national institute for agriculture research (Inra) and the French pork and pig institute (Ifip) are involved for many years in programs aimed to assess the impact of feeding strategies and farm management on animal’s performance and associated environmental impacts.
A previous PhD (Martel, 2008) resulted in the development of a sow herd dynamic model able to simulate the impact of different practices (oestrus detection, farrowing supervision, adoption of piglets, etc.) on technical performance and work organization.
In the framework of the Casdar Mogador project, the Ifip and the Inra aimed to implement a decision support tool able to simulate the effect of different unit structures, farmer’s practices, and biological characteristics on the technico-economic performance and environmental impacts of pig farms. The project led the Iifip to fund a Cifre PhD in collaboration with the Inra-UMR Pegase over the 2014-2017 period.

Aim of the PhD work

The main objective during this PhD is the development of a pig livestock farming system model (farrow to finish) to address the question:

What would be the effects of a change in unit structure, and/or livestock management, and/or animal’s characteristics on the sustainability of a pig farming system?   

This work is divided in three steps:

  • Development of the livestock model with farmer practices, animal’s characteristics, and pig unit structures as inputs, and economic, environmental and organizational (distribution of working time) indicators as outputs.
  • Behavior analysis of the model and sensitivity analysis (model assessment and validation).
  • Scenario simulations and analysis of the technico-economic result and environmental impacts depending on the combinations of management, structure and biological characteristics.

A pig farming system model

Descriptive diagram of pigs livestock farming system

Descriptive diagram of pigs livestock farming system

The model will be constituted of three modules corresponding to the three units of a pig farm: farrowing unit, post-weaning unit, finishing unit.
These modules will be able to operate independently to ensure a better representation of all existing types of pig farming systems (farrow-to-finish, feeder-to-market, etc.). The first year of work will be focused on post-weaning and fattening units. The modules will include the effect of the batch-end management (departure arrangements to slaughterhouse, mix of batch, etc.) and post-weaning and fattening nutrition on technical performance, and economic result and environmental impacts associated.
To build the pig farming system model, we will use the sow herd dynamic model developed by Gilles Martel (2008), and the environmental impacts will be computed using Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).

Alice Cadero has been working on this subject of thesis since the october 2014 for 3 years. She is supervised by Florence Garcia-Launay and Jean-Yves Dourmad in the team the pig in livestock systems and co-supervised by Alexia Aubry of Ifip.


Florence Garcia-Launay : florence.garcia-launay[at]
Alexia Aubry : alexia.aubry[at]
Alice Cadero : alice.cadero[at]