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Weaning age: What does it cost me to wean an older pig? Part 2

What is more valuable to your operation to get more turns and produce more pigs or fewer older bigger pigs?

Ron Ketchem, Mark Rixand 1 more

August 5, 2020

5 Min Read
Feeder pigs in a pen
National Pork Board

Last month we started this two-part series looking at weaning age. That is a question that is being asked in the industry as isowean pig buyers want a bigger pig so they ask for them to be older. To looks at weaning age in the Swine Management Services data set there were 601 farms selected with the requirement of farm weaning a minimum of 20-plus pigs per mated female per year. Remember farms in the SMS data base are from the United States, Canada and a small set from Australia, ranging in farm size from 125 to 10,000-plus sows.

We used a few tables from the first article that was published July 1. A review of Table 1- Weaning Age shows how we set up the tables for the articles as we rounded the weaning age to the nearest whole numbers by one-day increments. 

 Range of weaning ages of piglets

To show the distribution of weaning age by the 601 farms we created Chart 1- Number of Farms which shows that 70.7% (425 farms) of the selected farms are weaning between 19 to 22 days (18.5 to 22.49 pigs), 29 farms (4.8% of all farms) at 18 days and 11.6% (70 farms) at 25-plus days weaning age.  

 Variation of piglet weaning age by number of farms

Here is a short summary of what was in the first article. The size of farm showed farms with a weaning age of 18 to 23 days were 2000-plus sows or larger; weaning age 24 to 26 days were smaller at 1,100 to 1,600 sows; and older weaning ages of 26 days were about 700 sows and 28 days at 800-plus sows. If you look at litters per mated female per year, we know that as age goes up the turns per crate goes down, with weaning age of 18 to 20 days turns at 13-plus and weaning age at 25-plus days down as low as 10 turns. 

The data did show a lot of farm-to-farm variation. When we looked at total born per mated female per year we see as weaning age goes up, total born goes down. However, there is a lot of variation with an average at 35.37 pigs and the range of the 601 farms from 24.7 to 44.60 pigs. Then when looking at pigs weaned per mated female per year the average was at 27.13 pigs with the range of 20.2 to 34.4 pigs for the 601 farms. It was interesting to see one farm weaning at 27 days of age weaned 33 pigs per mated female for the last year.

The last area that was looked at was piglet survival. This is a number that was created by SMS to address how to classify a dead pig in the farrowing crate. The equation was (100 percent minus stillborn percent minus pre-weaning death loss) equals piglet survival percent. It was interesting to note that the piglet survival percentage trend line was flat and was not influenced by the weaning age. The range in piglet survival was 63.0% to 93.0%. It appears that on-farm management in farrowing determines how many of the pigs born are weaned.  

We have added a few more tables looking at production numbers and if they are affected by weaning age. Chart 2 and Chart 3 Farrowing Rate take the 601 farms and break out by highest farrowing 87.8% weaned at 18 days (17.5 to 18.49 days), and going from days 19 to 23 flat about 85% or more, a drop at day 24 to 84%, day 26 the lowest at less than 83%, and back up for day 27 to 85-plus% and day 28 at 87%. 


Chart 3 shows as weaning age goes up, the trend line is flat with a lot of farm-to-farm variation in farrowing rate. 


Chart 4- Percent Repeat Services shows most farms regardless of weaning age rebred 4.5 to 6.1%, with repeats for farms weaning day 24 and up moving up to 7%. 


In Chart 5 as the weaning age goes up there is a drop in wean-to-first service interval going from 18 days weaning age at 6.8 days down to 5.8 days for weaning at 23 days average. This is what we would expect. However, it was interesting to see wean-to-first service day go up when weaning age was at 24-plus days. Could this be caused by sows lactating longer not being able to eat enough feed and losing some extra body condition that delayed them coming into heat? 


Chart 6 breaks the wean-to-first service interval out by individual farms based on weaning age and as you see there is a small drop on wean-to-first service interval as weaning age goes up.   Again, when you line all the farms up, there is still a lot of variation in wean-to-first service interval.   


The last Chart 7- Farrow to Farrow Interval lines up the 601 sow farms showing that as weaning age goes up the farrow-to-farrow interval trend line is up starting about 140 days going to 150 days. Once again, a lot of farm-to-farm variation.  


What is more valuable to your operation to get more turns and produce more pigs or fewer older bigger pigs? It will be very interesting to see where this goes over the next few years.   

Table 2 provides the 52-week rolling averages for the 11 production numbers represented in the SMS Production Index. The numbers are separated by 90-100%, the 70-90%, the 50-70%, the 30-50% and the 0-30% groups. We also included the 13-week, 26-week and 12-quarter averages. These numbers represent, what we feel, are the key production numbers to properly evaluate the farm's performance.


At SMS, our mission statement is to provide "Information solutions for the swine industry." We feel with the creation of different SMS Benchmarking databases for all production areas, we now have more detailed information to share with the swine industry. If your farm would like to be part of the SMS Benchmarking databases, or if you have suggestions on production areas to write columns about, contact Mark RixRon Ketchem or Connor Sharp. We enjoy being a part of the NHF Daily team. Previous columns can be found at NationalHogFarmer.com.

Sources: Ron Ketchem, Mark Rix and Connor Sharp, who are solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly own the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

About the Author(s)

Ron Ketchem

Swine Management Services

Mark Rix

Swine Management Services LLC

Connor Sharp

Swine Management Services

Sharp is an Omaha, Neb., native, and joins the SMS/MetaFarms team after having spent the past five years with Standard Nutrition Services — a livestock nutrition and production management company based in Omaha. Serving in a variety of roles — from slat-level to boardroom-level — Sharp has a unique perspective on the opportunities and challenges facing the swine industry. Agriculture is near and dear to his heart, as his family and relatives are deeply rooted in Nebraska farming and livestock and have been for generations.

Prior to finding his passion for swine, Sharp spent five-plus years in the financial advisory industry. This background provides a valuable depth of knowledge and understanding of factors that drive corporate decisions within a business operation.

He is an active member of the Omaha community. Giving back has always been something of importance and he continues to serve on boards of directors of various charitable organizations. When not working, Sharp enjoys spending time with his wife, Andra, and their two boys, Jeffrey and Wilson.

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