Cut Costs by Focusing on Non-Productive Days

As the swine industry struggles with increasing feed costs and declining market prices, producers basically have two options – reduce the cost to raise a pig or raise more pigs per sow to spread costs out.

October 8, 2012

6 Min Read
Cut Costs by Focusing on Non-Productive Days

As the swine industry struggles with increasing feed costs and declining market prices, producers basically have two options – reduce the cost to raise a pig or raise more pigs per sow to spread costs out.

In a past article, we looked at how feed cost is affected by the number of pigs weaned/sow/year. For example, if average feed cost/sow is $362.24 and she weans 24 pigs/year, the average cost/pig is $15.09. If she can wean 26 pigs annually, the cost drops to $13.93/pig – a feed cost savings of $1.16/pig.

In the next few articles, we will dig deeper into production areas that can lower costs and produce more pigs.  This month we will focus on female non-productive days.

By definition, non-productive days are those when a female is not gestating or lactating. These would include the days from arrival on the farm to breeding, wean-to-first service days, breed-to-return days, days to culling, days from weaning to culling or death and days from breeding to culling.

At Swine Management Services (SMS), we do not compare female non-productive days between farms because we feel there are too many variations in how gilts are entered into the breeding herd. We have seen a range of 0-120 days. Instead, we compare “mated female non-productive days.” The number of farms that now enter gilts at breeding instead of entry day has increased as more software companies use female inventory to calculate fees vs. an annual recordkeeping fee. 

A farm’s management team usually does not have control of the non-productive days for new gilts since this decision is made based on purchase weight and days of isolation. On-farm management has more control of mated female non-productive days. 

A Closer Look

We selected 66 farms from the SMS database that represent 178,454 sows; 46 of those farms (125,834 sows) are located in the United States and 20 farms (52,620 sows) ar4e from Canada. We pulled detailed data from the farms for the last 104 weeks with data ending June 30, 2012. Using two years of data broken down by week, we can identify seasonal trends. 

Chart 1 shows female non-productive days (NPD).  For the two-year span, the farms’ NPDs ranged from 46.7 to 54.8 days and averaged 50.5 days. The 46 U.S. farms ranged from 45.8 to 55.8 days and averaged 50.7 days. The 20 Canadian farms ranged from 45.8 to 52.9 days to average 49.8 NPDs.

The chart shows the seasonal trend of NPDs – lower in January and February and higher in September, peaking at about 55 days. Canadian farms show less seasonal variation in the late winter and in the summer.

We feel seasonal variation is caused by several things;

·      Summer heat, which lowers lactation feed intake;

·      Higher sow death loss in summer;

·      Increased entry-to-service days (fewer gilts cycle in summer heat);

·      Increase in the number of non-cycling weaned females;

·      More wean-to-first service days;

·      More returns to estrus as farrowing rate drops;

·      More late returns to estrus do to late-term abortions;

·      More irregular returns to estrus, and

·      More open females missed.

Looking closer, “mated female” NPD (Chart 2) shows the same seasonal patterns with a higher peak in the late summer. U.S. herds ranged from 29.1 to 37.9 days and averaged 32.6 days. Canadian herds varied from 30.0 to 34.9 days and averaged 33.1 days. When combined, the 66 herds ranged from 30.3 to 37.0 non-productive days and averaged 32.8 days.

The difference between Chart 1 and Chart 2 is 17.7 days and is mainly due to entry-to-first service of gilts.  Both the data and the chart show a narrower range in days for Canadian farms, probably due to their shorter, cooler summers.  In the Canadian data from March 2012 to June 2012, it is interesting to note the large increase in mated female non-productive days, which last year started in June.

Chart 3, a scatter graph for 2011 and 2012, shows the wide variation in mated female NPDs (19 to 49 days). This data shows individual farms vs. the range by week (weekly averages). The average is 32.8 days.

To illustrate the economic impact of mated female NPDs, we put some dollars to the days. Chart 4, mated female NPD dollars spent, shows a range from $42.50 to $110.00/female. We estimated an open female day cost $2.25.  Accordingly, an average 2,500-sow farm would spend $184,500/year to feed non-productive females, with a range of $106,875 to $275,625/year.

To calculate your cost for an open female day, you can take the breakeven cost to produce a weaned pig x pigs weaned/mated female, then divide by 365 days.

Clearly, open female days are very costly. The following suggestions could help lower mated female non-productive days:

·      Increase daily feed intake in lactation to lower wean-to-first service interval and to non-cycling weaned sows.

·      Increase feed allocations to sows from weaning to breeding.

·      Lower female death loss by closer observation and quicker treatment.

·      Improve heat checking to find more returns by Day 25 (target finding at least 60% of returns by Day 25 after insemination).

·      Use very mature, smelly boars for heat checking and start checking sows at 16 days, post-insemination.

·      Cull sows that return to estrus after two services.

·      When heat checking, use a flashlight to look for sows with a shiny mucus discharge on their vulva – a sign that they are starting to cycle.

·      Start pregnancy checking on about Day 28 after breeding, and then follow up with a pregnancy check on Days 45 to 50 after breeding to find irregular returns that were probably pregnant at first pregnancy check.

·      Review your vaccination program to see if some of the abortions could be related to vaccines.  Consult with your veterinarian to see if changes in the vaccination program would be appropriate.

·      To compensate for decreasing daylight in the fall, make sure replacement gilts and weaned sows in the breeding area are exposed to 16 hours of light.

·      A visual pregnancy check of bred sows at Day 70-80 of gestation will help find open females that should be in late-term pregnancy.

·      Make reducing mated female non-productive days a priority and hold farm employees accountable.

Now is the time to get your whole staff involved in reducing production costs. Lowering female non-productive days is a good place to start.

Editor’s note: Past Production Preview columns can be found at:; click on “newsletters,” then the respective date of the Weekly Preview issue you are interested in.

Key Performance Indicators

Tables 1 and 2 (below) 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, 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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