Analyzing How Farm Size Impacts Piglet Survival

September 9, 2013

7 Min Read
Analyzing How Farm Size Impacts Piglet Survival

In this first in a series of three articles that come from farms in Ohio, we are looking at performance by farm size related to piglet survival. Next week’s article will delve into parity performance by farm size and the third article will cover piglet death loss by lactation day by farm size.


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The data for the articles is based on 48 farms, totaling 112,432 mated females, from our In-Depth Farm Analysis database.  Size of farms in this data set ranged from 600 to 5,700 females.  To be entered into the dataset, the farms had be 26+ pigs weaned / mated female / year for the last 52 weeks and had to have entered piglet death losses by the day of lactation.  We sorted the farms by size and used this information to estimate the number of employees on the farm.  We wanted to see if farm size and the number of employees had an effect on performance:

          Group 05 – 4,000+ mated females – five farms - 13+ employees

          Group 04 – 3,000 – 3,999 mated females - 12 farms - 9 - 13 employees

          Group 03 – 2,000 – 2,900 mated females - 10 farms - 6 - 9 employees

          Group 02 – 1,300 – 1,999 mated female - 11 farms - 4 - 6 employees

          Group 01 - 600 – 1,299 mated females - 10 farms - 2 - 4 employees


In the future, we will provide more detailed analyses of employees per sows and  minutes per pig weaned.  To do this we will need more detailed farm information.


Table 1 breaks down the 48 farms with Group 05 mated females averaging 5,276 females, down to Group 01 averaging  2,341 mated females.  Total born / mated female / year averaged 34.60 pigs with Group 01 at 35.26 pigs and Group 03 (2,000-2,900 females) the lowest at 33.96 pigs.  Pigs weaned / mated female / year for Group 05 farms was a very impressive 30.09 pigs; Group 01 averaged 27.94 pigs and Group 03 was at 26.97 pigs.  Data shows the middle-size farms with a drop in production numbers.  This observation suggests that the largest and the smallest farms have the highest production.  Could this be due to lack of sufficient labor at these farms to work at saving those extra pigs in the farrowing area?


Table 2 shows the breakdown of the five groups by total born / female farrowed, live born / female farrowed, stillborns / female farrowed, weaned pigs / female  farrowed, preweaning mortality and piglet survival.  Interestingly, total born / female farrowed is highest for the smaller Group 01 farms and 02 with 600 to 1,999 females at 14.24 and 14.35 pigs, respectively.  Again the Group 03 farms at 2,000-2,900 females ranked lowest with 13.76 pigs the last 52 weeks.  Total born / female farrowed average for these 48 farms scored 14.01 pigs, while data in Table 3 52-Week Benchmarking Data showed SMS All Farms (834 farms) at 13.52 pigs with the Top 10% at 14.47 pigs. 


When look at the data produced in the farrowing area, we start to see some very interesting changes.  Figures for total born / female farrowed included mummies and stillborns to reflect the true potential for pigs.  In the 48 farms, there were several different genetic companies represented showing that most genetics have the potential to be at 30+ pigs weaned/mated female.  Live born / female farrowed is affected by stillborns and farrowing house management.  Live born / female farrowed ranges from 13.13 for the Group 05 farms (4,000+ females) to 12.64 for these midsized Group 03 farms.

Stillborns / female farrowed for the 48 farms had an average of 0.79 pigs with a range of 0.56 for the Group 05 farms to 1.07 for Group 01 farms (600-1,299 females).  That spread of 0.51 pigs/female farrowed is very big.  In Chart 1 the 48 farms are listed on the X-axis showing the range for stillborns being 0.28 to 1.63 pigs.  The farms are sorted by size with Farm 1 being the largest farm and the smallest being Farm 48.  The blue line shows the individual farm’s stillborns with the black line the trend line.

So why are the larger farms saving more stillborns?  It has to do with having someone in the farrowing rooms attending sows farrowing more that 8-10 hours per day with even shorter time on weekends.  All of the larger farms that we work with have someone in the farrowing rooms 18-24 hours per day, 5-7 days per week.  As the data shows, the smaller the farm, the higher the number of stillborns in most cases. So can a smaller farm justify extending farrowing hours?  If having a person in farrowing can reduce stillborns by just one pig per hour, then it will pay for the labor. 

The saving of more pigs is also reflected in preweaning mortality with the average of the 48 farms at 12% with the range 7.9% for the Group 05 farms to 14.5% for Group 02 farms (1,300-1,999 females).  Chart 2 shows the large amount of variation between the farms at 3.8% to 22.1%.   Once again the trend line gives the advantage to the larger sow farms.  However, the Group 01 farms (600-1,299) sows reported some drop in preweaning mortality.  We feel these smaller farms are family farms that will spend extra time in farrowing if sows need help and spend more time attending sows and pigs with some drying pigs to reduce chilling and getting the pigs on the sow nursing sooner.

Chart 3 Piglet Survival ((100% -(stillborn % + preweaning mortality %)) shows the top 5 farms (Group 05) with piglet survival at 88.1% vs. the smaller  farms (Group 01 and 02) at 79.7% and 78.8%, respectively.  That difference of 9.3% in piglet survival is very large on any size farm.

This data raises some questions: Do larger farms have a larger staff? What is the number of females per employee?  Are they at the industry number of 300 females per one employee?  Do you have to have extra employees to work in the farrowing house to attend more sows farrowing to save more pigs or can you just move some employees to come to farm later in the day? 

A 1,250-sow farm that farrows 50 litters per week could justify another person if they could save one pig per litter, by saving stillborn pigs and reducing piglet death loss.  That would be 2,600 pigs times $40 equals $104,000 per year at a cost of $34,000 for an additional person or a 3:1 return for each dollar spent.  One large farm we work with told us he was getting $5 return for each dollar he spent on increased labor.

In order to capture the true genetic and management potential of 36 pigs weaned / mated female / year, refer to the Aug. 5 article that appeared in Weekly Preview (, that indicated farms need to completely rework all their standard operating procedures in the farrowing house and rethink the true staffing needs of the farm.

Key Performance Indicators

Until the benchmarking data base is rebuilt, we will continue to use the old one for the date for Tables 3 and 4 (below) that provide 52-week and 13-week rolling averages for key performance indicators (KPI) of breeding herd performance.  These tables reflect the most current quarterly data available and are presented with each column.  The KPI’s can be used as general guidelines to measure the productivity of your herd compared to the top 10% and top 25% of farms, the average performance for all farms and the bottom 25% of farms in the SMS database.


If you have questions or comments about these columns, a specific story idea for us to write about, or if you have a specific performance measurement that you would like to see benchmarked in our database, please address them to:  [email protected] or [email protected].

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