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Tracking the Three-Year Improvement of Pigs Weaned/Female Farrowed

The USDA Hogs and Pigs Report released the end of June showed pigs weaned per litter averaged 10.03 pigs for the March 1-May 31 quarter, a new reproductive performance high. South Dakota led with the highest average of 10.40 pigs, followed by Minnesota at 10.35 and Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri with a 10.30 pigs/litter average. Kansas ranked lowest with only 9.40 pigs/female farrowed.

We then compared the Swine Management Services, LLC (SMS) data compared to the USDA report. We broke the farm benchmarking database into two subsets:

• SMS consulting farms – 75 farms representing 184,800 sows, and

• SMS benchmarking farms – 636 farms with 1,072,000 sows.

The SMS consulting farms is a subset in which we do periodic review of production records and provide them with a written farm analysis report. This information is placed on our Web site with detailed reports, tables, graphs and charts. We do farm visits or telephone conference calls with the farm staff to go over the information and provide management ideas. The SMS benchmarking database would normally include these farms, but they were removed for this article.

Chart 1, pigs weaned/female farrowed, shows data from the USDA report, SMS consulting and SMS benchmark farms with data for the last 12 quarters (three years). The USDA report over the last three years went from 9.50 to 10.03 pigs weaned/litter, a 5.4% improvement. By comparison, the SMS benchmark farms went from 10.02 to 10.32 pigs weaned/litter, a 2.9% improvement, and SMS consulting farms went from 10.12 to 10.88 pigs weaned/litter, a 7% improvement.

Chart 2, pigs weaned/female farrowed for the most current 13 weeks shows the huge variation in pigs weaned/female farrowed for the 75 SMS consulting farms and 636 SMS benchmarking farms. The range was from less than 6.66 weaned pigs/female farrowed to a high of 12.92 pigs weaned/female farrowed. We continue to be amazed by the pork industry’s wide variation in production from farm to farm.

Since we do more in-depth analysis of the SMS consulting farms, we were able to create a few more charts showing the improvement in some of the Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Chart 3, pigs weaned/mated female/year (NPPC), shows the 75 farms over the last 12 quarters have improved from 23.93 to 26.38 pigs weaned – an increase of 2.45 pigs/litter over three years or a 10.2% improvement.

This increase is reflected in other KPIs as well. Chart 4 shows wean-to-first service interval has dropped from 7.69 to 6.20 days, on average, which influences farrowing rate and subsequent litter size. Wean-to-first service interval is influenced by litter weaning age, gilt development programs, feed intake in lactation, feed intake from weaning to breeding and heat detection.

Chart 5, farrowing rate, shows a 2% improvement (85% vs. 87%) in farrowing rate after some management changes were made. Although this appears to be a small improvement, it represents about 0.70 pigs/litter increase per mated female.

Remember, farrowing rate is determined by three factors – semen quality, the breeding female and the artificial insemination (AI) technician. If all three are performing well, the farrowing rate should be 90%.

As we are in the midst of summer, it is important to keep a close eye on semen quality by daily monitoring of temperatures and making sure that semen storage units are in an air conditioned office or room. And, it is important to keep sows eating all the feed they can in lactation by providing cooling and feeding several times a day or provide ad libitum feeders. In addition, make sure everyone involved in breeding is cross-trained so conception rates don’t suffer when the main technicians are on vacation or at the county fair.

In Chart 6, total born/female farrowed over the last 12 quarters has improved from 12.7 to 13.6 pigs, a gain of 0.90 pigs. A lot of this improvement has come from the genetic companies and from the farms that have taken more interest in gilt development. Top farms have dedicated labor to the gilt development area with boar exposure of gilts early, recording heat cycles, and providing gilts with exposure to gestation crates before breeding.

Chart 7, piglet survival (pre-wean and stillborn losses), shows over the last three years that farms have struggled with saving more of the extra pigs being born. The most recent quarter of data on piglet survival has improved to 82.8%. Some changes farms have made include developing standard operating procedures at farrowing, reducing the number of sows that are induced, shifting or adding more people to the farrowing area to extend the hours when someone is attending farrowing, and doing a better job of colostrum management through split suckling on the day pigs are born.

Chart 8, stillborn percent, and Chart 9, pre-weaning death loss, are two primary components of piglet survival.

Percent stillborns has improved from 6.75 to 5.8%. A dramatic improvement over the last four quarter reflects that several large farms have adopted the extending farrowing hours.

Pre-weaning death loss has remained constant, which is quite remarkable considering the larger increase in born live/female farrowed (Chart 10) from 11.6 to 12.5, a 7.8% increase.

The SMS consulting farms reinforce that the dramatic increase in total born over the last three years can also translate into more pigs weaned. Training employees to manage our highly prolific sows and having buy-in from all employees is critical to maintaining and continuing to improve the number of full-value pigs leaving the farrowing facility.

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].

Click to view graphs.

Mark Rix and Ron Ketchem
Swine Management Services LLC