Long-term profit requires prioritizing herd health

The key to preventing profit-draining diseases in your swine herd is to develop strong health management and vaccination programs.

Long-term profit requires prioritizing herd health

Commodity businesses are cyclical by nature, and pork production is no different. To make the most of market upsides and minimize the impact of downsides, producers need to maximize their production by controlling the factors they can, namely herd health.

The price of feed inputs, such as corn and soybean meal, can vary significantly from one year to the next, as do hog prices. “Those markets are going to change over time, up and down. They always do and there’s nothing you can do about them,” says Daryl Olsen, DVM with AMVC Management Services LLC, Audubon, Iowa. That’s why, he says, producers need to stick to a solid production strategy focused on delivering the most pigs and pounds to market.

“The common cost equation we use is total expenses divided by number of pigs equals cost per pig,” he says. “The denominator is the number of pigs produced. Increasing that number usually has a larger impact on cost per pig than trying to reduce expenses. 

Controlling costs is important, he acknowledges, but maintaining good production – not losing pigs to health issues – becomes more important than trying to reduce expenses up front, especially during times of tight margins. Along with choosing superior genetics and making decisions that enhance finishing performance, stabilizing piglet health is a key part of efficient weaned pig production, says Olsen.

“Have a good herd health plan based on developing solid immunity, then stick with it through good economic times and bad ones. That’s how you develop herd health stability,” he says. “It’s never worth sacrificing performance for a small input savings upfront.”

Biggest threat to profitability
Agricultural economist Dennis DiPietre, PhD, agrees. “Across the pork industry, disease is the single greatest destroyer of profitability,” he says. “Disease can impact all the production profit drivers – average daily gain, feed efficiency, meat quality characteristics and death loss.

“Signs of emerging disease can take on many forms, from dramatic to very subtle,” DiPietre says, noting that the more sublte signs can easily be missed by busy or distracted workers. Once symptoms are noticed, more time often passes until a cause is determined, treatment options are considered and a treatment plan is chosen and administered.

“After all of this has occurred, some of the animals may die and others never fully be restored to previous growth and efficiency trajectories that were possible before they became sick,” says DiPietre.

Another aspect of disease impact is the development of subpopulations that often emerge within groups of exposed animals, he explains. “These subpopulations within a barn form their own distributions of feed intake, growth, efficiency and death loss, but they’re often not visible to farm workers and therefore not differentially treated, leading to increased sub-optimization and profit loss. 

Failing to recognize weight variation resulting from disease and the emergence of subpopulations within a barn almost always leads to underestimating disease cost as well as the value of vaccination, he adds. “Preventing disease is simpler, more effective and more profitable than treatment.”

The value of vaccination
The key to preventing profit-draining diseases is to develop a strong health management and vaccination program. “Pigs receiving vaccines and raised with other disease prevention protocols tend to weigh more than their less healthy counterparts,” says Jeff Worstell, director of market access for Boehringer Ingelheim. “Operations that aren’t implementing preventive measures are likely leaking some precious profit.”

For more information on herd health plans and vaccination programs talk to your veterinarian, your Boehringer Ingelheim sales representative or visit bi-vetmedica.com/species/swine.html

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