Characteristics of the best performing sow farms

Removals at sow farms are inevitable but when and why animals are removed can have an impact on performance.

April 5, 2023

6 Min Read
Sows in a farrowing house
National Pork Board

If you want to be the best, you need to best the best. Human nature within everyone drives us to want to be the best in what we do in every walk of life. Competitiveness comes from the desire to stand above the others while others strive to understand what that person did to become the best by improving their own self to get to the top. It has been said that to become a master at something, whether its shooting a basketball or shooting an arrow, means that repetition must occur 10,000 times. 

One of the most commonly competitive areas within the swine industry is on the sow farm side of production. Effective sow farm production will have long lasting affects down the road. An example of lasting effects would be breeding targets. If actual breed totals are below target 21 weeks later when those breeds are weaned in the farrowing house, the targeted cumulative wean pigs would be below expectations. This can have an impact on grow finish space utilization, all the way to marketing weight of finishing pigs being too light on having enough barn space for new arriving pigs.

All closeouts are based on a standardized set of business logic and calculation algorithms, which allows our analysts and users to make apples-to-apples comparisons of performance across and within companies using the MetaFarms Ag Platform. 

Sow farm performance analysis was performed utilizing the MetaFarms Ag Platform with farms located in the United States, Canada, Australia and the Philippines. In the calendar year 2022, the number of sow farms was over 410 which consisted of a total mated inventory over 1,100,000 animals with an average farm size of 2,683. 

The top 10% of farms consists of the top 41 sow farms based on pigs weaned per mated female per year. All corresponding performance information is cohorted from PWMFY. The comparison logic is associated with the bottom 10% of farms.

Overall performance comparison
The gold standard for comparing one sow farm to another is PWMFY. Before going farther, it is very important to know what goes into that calculation. The MetaFarms Ag Platform has four different PWMFY calculations due to a customer and industry demand. The PWMFY used in this analysis is total pigs weaned divided by average mated inventory 140 days ago.

Table 1 compares several metrics along the lines of an overall performance analysis. What that means is that these metrics are the final product of other performance indicators, such as farrowing rate, pigs weaned per sow, and so on. The big outlier is the difference between the top and bottom 10% for PWMFY of 13.2. To put that into a real-life example, for a 2,000 head sow farm that produces at the top 10% average of 31.1 PWMFY, that farm will produce 62,200 pigs on an annual basis. If that same farm produces at the bottom 10% average of 17.9 PWMFY the annual number of pigs produced would be 35,800. That difference is 26,400 pigs or 42.4% less pigs. For some companies, that difference in pigs produced means the need to buy pigs to keep grow finish barns filled in order to fulfill packer obligations.

One of the least known overall performance metrics is pigs weaned per farrowing space (PWCY). This measure is shows how affective your farrowing spaces are. The top 10% farms are maximizing their farrowing spaces by maximizing the lactating abilities of their sows, while having minimal downtime between weaning and the actual farrow event occurring. 


MetaFarms Table 1 040523.png

Gestation barn performance comparison
Table 2 represents some of the main performance metrics occurring in the gestation barns. Farrowing rate has been used as the most important measure for how the gestation barn is functioning. The makeup of a breed group will also have an impact to not only the farrowing rate but also to the farrowing barn performance. Those farms that rebreed fallouts at a lower level have consistently seen an overall higher farm farrowing rate along with higher total born averages.  

Wean-to-first service interval calculation is the difference in days from the wean date to the first mating event. This is a key indicator of how well weaned sows are coming out of the farrowing house and are ready to be bred. A higher number indicates issues with health and the body conditioning, especially with parity 1 animals. 


MetaFarms Table 2 040523.png

Farrowing performance comparison
Farrowing barn performance is the catalyst to the number of pigs produced for the farm. Total born averages are driven by many factors including genetic capabilities and semen quality but also the actual heat detection and breeding practices. The 2.1 pig difference from the top and bottom farms is very eye opening. A different comparison can be like two runners in a marathon. The bottom 10% farms are starting at the beginning, but the top 10% farms start near the 10-mile mark. The point is that if your farm is not at or near the top farms, then the likelihood of the overall PWMFY being close is slim to none.

Piglet survivability % looks at all the pigs that are born (total born) and then what is lost due to stillborns and piglet deaths. Stillborns and piglet deaths are assets that are metrics that indicate how well farms maximize the opportunity provided by total born.

MetaFarms Table 3 040523.png

Inventory comparison
Removals at sow farms are inevitable but when and why animals are removed can have an impact on performance. Pregnant animals that are removed because of death will result in unproductive days. Animals that are bred and then culled should be looked at prior to breeding to determine if the likelihood of an outcome is in the best interest of the animal and the farm.

Replacement rate % is a good indicator of the gilt availability for the farm. Older parity sows are less productive than younger parities so have a steady availability of animals entering a herd is imperative to long term performance success.


MetaFarms Table 4 040523.png

Common characteristics of top producing sow farms

  • High health status

  • Timely data input (daily data is entered in, rather than at the end of week)

  • Clean data (Action lists and data integrity errors are addressed in a timely manner)

  • Performance is analyzed by management on daily basis (On-farm adjustments are made in a timely manner)

To be the best, you need to understand what the best farms do. Then, understand the differences from what they do and what your own farm does. From there, the differences may seem like an unachievable task, but it can happen. It will not happen overnight but, with small steps that are well thought out and established within management and farm staff performance, can narrow the performance gaps.

MetaFarms Analytic Insights were used to provide the context and trends for this article. If you would like to see an analysis of how mortality is affecting your finishing performance, or if you have suggestions on production areas to write articles about, please e-mail or call us. We enjoy being a part of the National Hog Farmer Weekly Preview team. Previous Production Preview columns can be found at

If you have questions or comments about these columns, or if you have a specific performance measurement that you would like us to write about, please contact: Bradley Eckberg at [email protected].

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