Size Matters in Sow Farm Productivity

In recent months, we have been getting questions on the size of farms as it relates to performance. Back in September 2009, we broke the size of farms into four groups: under 1,000 females, 1,000-1,999 females, 2,000-2,999 females and 3,000+ females with selected farms.

In a more recent analysis, we broke farms into 11 size breaks, starting with farms with less than 500 females on up to farms with more than 5,000 females, in size breaks by 500 sows (Table 1). The table represents 770 farms in the Swine Management Services (SMS) Farm Benchmarking data base, broken down by size and sorted by pigs weaned/mated female/year (PW/MF/Y). These farms are located in the United States and Canada and they represent several different genetic suppliers. We used production data from the most current 52 weeks available.

As you can see, there are eight farms at 30+ PW/MF/Y and all have less than 1,000 sows. The largest category is farms of 500-1,000 females (223 farms); ranking second are the 189 farms with 1,000-2,000 females. There were 61 farms with less than 500 females and 27 farms with over 5,000 females.

In the summary at the bottom of Table 1, 44 of the farms averaged over 28 PW/MF/Y, 358 farms ranged between 24 and 28 PW/MF/Y, 308 farms are between 20 and 24 PW/MF/Y, and 60 farms are less than 20 PW/MF/Y. Chart 1 shows the breakout by farm size and PW/MF/Y.

To provide more detail, we created Table 2 and Chart 2, which presents the information by percentage. This shows that only 1% of the farms are 30+ PW/MF/Y, while at the low end, 7.8% averaged less than 20 PW/MF/Y. There are 61 farms with less than 500 sows (7.9% of all farms) and 62.3% of these farms reported more than 24 PW/MF/Y; 14.8% of those farms were less than 20 PW/MF/Y. From the total, 47.8% of farms were below 24 PW/MF/Y.

At the other end of the farm-size spectrum, the 27 farms with more than 5,000 sows with 81.5% averaging over 28 PW/MF/Y. Only one of those farms had less than 20 PW/MF/Y.

As you look at Tables 1 and 2, you can see a lot of variation in PW/MF/Y regardless of farm size. As we analyzed the reasons the smallest farms and the largest farms had such a high percentage over 24 PW/MF/Y, the bottom line appears to be related to the number of employees and their training.

The smallest farms will have the fewest employees (2-3) and those employees usually have a vested interest in the farm. It is easier to transfer knowledge and animal husbandry skills between employees in those smaller farms.

The largest farms logically have more employees (14+), which allow them to specialize in specific areas, and those farms are more likely to have employees on the farm for more than 8-9 hours/day. In addition, they are more likely to have professional consultants working with the farm on a regular basis, and they, too, are more likely to have written standard operating procedures (SOPs) and employee handbooks. Large farms are also more likely to have regular staff meetings to go over the records to create action plans for improvement and are more likely to make training available for the employees on and off the farm.

It is time for owners to look at their farm's employees and ask these questions:

• Are all employees PQA Plus and TQA Certified?

• Are all employees implementing the “We Care” initiative?

• Are standard operating procedures and the employee handbook written and up to date? There are many resources for standard operating procedures and employee training.

• How often does the staff meet to review the production records and create action plans for improvement?

• How often do employees attend training meetings and seminars?

• How often are professional consultants on the farm to review production records, share ideas and set new action plans and goals?

SMS has all the programs necessary to address all of these areas. New materials are available from Pork Checkoff Employee Care Toolkit (call 1-800-456-7675).

Key Performance Indicators
Tables 3 and 4 (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: or

Click to view graphs.

Mark Rix and Ron Ketchem
Swine Management Services LLC