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Articles from 2007 In January

Giving Up G-Stalls Carries Consequences

Smithfield Foods' announcement on Thursday that it would phase out gestation stalls in its 187 company-owned farms over the next 10 years was a surprise to many people. I believe the real shock factor came from the fact that a company that now accounts for just over 1 million U.S. brood sows (per Successful Farming's 2006 Pork Powerhouses listing) was the first to make the move. It begs the question "What will be the impact?"

Smithfield's move will have an economic consequence. This industry did not grow with stall gestation systems by accident. They exist because they work. They keep sows from hurting one another after weaning. They create a better environment for embryo implantation. They allow sow body condition to be managed on an individual basis. And, they provide a safer work environment for workers. These are all economic pluses for the modern pig production unit and virtually all of them will be lost to some degree in a move to complete group gestation systems.

Moving away from a gestation stall system will be costly for Smithfield. Beyond the significant costs of remodeling will be the loss of the lion's share of the factors listed above. Most of those can be managed and it is interesting to note that Smithfield's neighbor in North Carolina, Maxwell Foods (Goldsboro Hog Farms), has done so successfully for years. Group gestation certainly has not limited Maxwell Foods prospects -- ranking it 10th in the Pork Powerhouses listing with 76,000 sows. There is one caveat, however. Maxwell Foods uses stalls for the first 35 days after weaning. There is no indication in Smithfield's announcement that they plan to include a short stay in gestation stalls, post-weaning.

The second economic consequence is that it may force others to follow. Smithfield says that its decision was based on the desires of its customers and is not meant to force anyone else to do the same. I take them at their word. But, the fact is, other retail and foodservice customers are liable to begin the "me too" cry very soon as they see McDonald's, Wal-Mart and others begin touting a "sow friendlier" product. Intended or not, that will probably be the effect of Smithfield's announcement.

I only hope that these retail and foodservice companies are correct in their judgment of their customers' desires. The research that I have seen indicates that the vast majority of U.S. consumers don't care much about these matters. But it appears that U.S. grocery stores and restaurants will do whatever they have to do to keep that PETA guy in the carrot suit from standing in front of one of their stores. More important, they will do what must be done to prevent more serious and dangerous forms of coercion, such as the violence that has been seen in Europe from strikers. Let's hope their customers don't mind paying more to keep that from happening.

So, is this the first domino to fall or the domino that, by falling, prevents others from tipping? After the lost referendum in Arizona, it appears that animal rightists and welfarists will continue their attack on at least this production practice, on a state-by-state basis. With Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress, these activists have a fighting chance of getting some elements of their program included in the next farm bill.

I'm afraid that there are dominoes yet to fall, and my real concern is whether we can successfully defend and continue the use of farrowing stalls, whose economic importance is, I think, immense. The good thing is we can stand as the defender of the helpless baby pig.

Good News in Lean Hog Futures
On a happier subject -- take a look at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Lean Hogs futures. We've seen a very nice rally, which shows few signs of weakening.

On Wednesday, April futures broke through two important resistance lines -- May through August all set contract life highs and October and December were within 50 points of doing so. The average of the eight 2007 contracts at Wednesday's close was $70.075. That's the equivalent of $52.55/cwt. liveweight. That price would cover all of the increase in production costs seen thus far, plus a little. Who would have thought that with corn over $4 and soybean meal near $220, we could still make a little money?

There is a catch, however. These prices are good, by any measure, but CME Lean Hogs futures for June through August (there aren't enough data to draw a conclusion about May Lean Hog futures) have historically peaked in late April. Even the October and December contracts have been near their historical peaks at that same time. Thus, the question remains: Do you sell on this rally or wait?

Producers should watch this rally closely and consider selling some hogs for summer delivery when it shows signs of running out of steam. How many times have you sold hogs for $75/cwt. (carcass basis)? I think the answer for most would be "not many." As Professor Glenn Grimes of the University of Missouri suggests: Sell a percentage and hope you're wrong because that will mean you get higher prices for the remainder. Watch prices relative to a 5- to 10-day moving average for a topping signal.

Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.

Smaller Crop Fuels Higher Corn Prices

Readers are probably tired of hearing about the impact of ethanol on the livestock industry and I'm certainly tired of writing about it. I would rather write about a.) something good that is happening and b.) something that I think we have a fighting chance of changing. Ethanol-induced corn prices certainly do not fulfill the first of those, and I fear that they do not fulfill the second either. So I will not linger on the subject this week.

Last Friday's Crop Production Report and World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates from USDA, however, deserve some attention, especially in light of the new rocket they have lit under corn prices. USDA's final and smaller estimate of the 2006 crop (10.535 billion bushels vs. the December estimate of 10.745 billion bushels and a crop of 11.114 billion bushels last year), and a 50-million bushel increase in exports (to 2.25 billion), resulted in projected year-end stocks falling to 752 million bushels. That is the second-lowest carryover on record and nearly 200 million bushels lower than last year. USDA increased its estimate of the season average farm price of corn by 10 cents/bushel to $3.00 to $3.40/bushel.

What was the market response? The Chicago Board of Trade futures for 2006 crop corn all went above $4.00/bushel with July trading near $4.30. Even new-crop 2007 corn futures are now approaching $4/bushel. That's about all I can handle for now.

Analyzing Price Spreads
Farm-to-wholesale and farm-to-retail price spreads don't get much attention when hog prices are high. There's never a need for anyone to blame when things are going well, so we tend to leave well enough alone. That probably makes such times when heads are cool and finances are good the proper time to study spreads and what they may mean for our business.

Figure 1 shows price spreads from pork for 1986 through November 2006. USDA's Economic Research Service publishes these estimates monthly. They are useful from a descriptive standpoint but, in my opinion, are limited from an analytical standpoint by the way in which the retail price series is computed. The USDA retail price series is based on a rather small sampling of pork cutout prices gathered each month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each cut's prices are averaged and are not weighted, thus, meaning that a low price that may move large quantities of product counts the same as a high price at which very little quantity may be sold. This tends to smooth out the price data and makes it very unresponsive to times of low hog and wholesale prices.

Another less serious shortcoming is that the conversion factors that USDA uses to adjust 1 pound of retail pork to some equivalent amount of wholesale pork and, eventually, an equivalent amount of live pig, are very old. This problem should be solved soon as USDA is nearing the completion of a project to update its conversion factors for many agricultural products.

Even with those shortcomings, these price spreads are interesting to study. A few features of the spreads should be noted.

  • They are not profits. These are gross margins from which all costs of transformation, transportation, packaging, marketing, etc. must be paid. There may or may not be a profit left after all of those are deducted.

  • They tend to make discreet shifts and then remain relatively constant. It happened in the late '70s and again in the late '90s. I attribute the shift in the '90s to the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point programs and much higher food safety scrutiny. Some would attribute it to consolidation at the packing and retail levels. I don't think that was the major factor but would agree it had an effect, especially over short periods of time.

  • Their trend has been flat since 2001. These spreads have been moving sideways during this past period of higher hog prices. The variability of the farm-to-wholesale margin is apparently smaller than in the past, while the variability of the wholesale-to-retail margins appears to be larger. I would attribute the former to more coordination in the producer-packer relationship and the tendency for wholesale and producer level prices to move together better than in the past. The latter is likely due to more competition from other species and higher volatility of those species' prices than in the past.

Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.

Tracking Newborn Pig Death Losses

A Minnesota swine veterinary clinic has started a program of monitoring early piglet deaths to improve survival rates.

To reduce preweaning mortality, producers can have the most impact by focusing on improving conditions for newborn pigs during the first three days of life, when about 60% of losses occur.

That's the conclusion drawn from a study of clients' farms by Paul Yeske, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, MN. He has several large farms participating in a monitoring program to reduce those reoccurring losses.

With the majority of losses in Days 1-3, it just makes sense to focus intervention strategies on that time period, Yeske says.

Farms get caught up in day-to-day activities, and sometimes forget that improving piglet survival is among the most basic of tasks and provides a very high return, he stresses.

“We help focus the staff back to making sure the pigs get started right, because that is what controlling preweaning mortality is all about,” says Yeske.

The ability of farms to maintain a high born-alive survival rate has been challenged as farms farrow larger litters.

Yeske suggests a general goal to shoot for is a preweaning mortality rate of 4-5% for the first three days of life. If that rate is achieved, the farm should be able to hold preweaning mortality to 9-10% when weaning at 20-21 days of age.

The most efficient farms for which Yeske consults are targeting 4% mortality by Day 3 in order to stay under 8% preweaning mortality at weaning.

These rates are recorded on farrowing cards kept with the sow and later transferred to PigChamp records. The process helps farms set goals and routinely track performance. Yeske says supervisors like it, too, because they can quickly scan the latest records and know how farrowing groups are doing.

It also gives staff a good diagnostic read. If newborns are surviving, but pigs are being lost later in lactation, appropriate health intervention steps can be taken.

The pork industry has averaged 8-15% preweaning mortality for many years, and Yeske agrees those figures are common to his practice area. His monitoring data reflects all pigs born alive that later/eventually die.

Basic Management Still Applies

Yeske says basic pigmanship is still integral to saving pigs.

“I think the number one thing is to make sure that the piglets stay warm; don't get chilled; have a good environment, including a good, warm mat; and that all of the piglets get started suckling as soon as possible.”

So the quicker pigs are dried off, get colostrum and established suckling, the better off they will be.

“If pigs are struggling to find the udder before they get started suckling, they are much more likely to get laid on,” Yeske points out.

“If the piglets suckle, and they've got a belly full of colostrum, then they go lie on the mat and sleep. If we can get that pattern established, then they are out of harm's way faster. And that is really the goal — to get them to understand that there is a warm, safe place to sleep,” he says.

Drying agents such as Quick Dry (SLS Marketing, Hector, MN, (320) 848-6212) are useful, as are hot boxes and decks to help increase piglet survival. Split suckling is another useful tool to make sure pigs get enough colostrum.

Farrowing Mats

When it comes to farrowing mats, Yeske says conventional rubber mats perform nearly as well as disposable types, such as the Compost-A-Mat, a commercial product developed by USA Solutions. The latter was identified as one of the top new products featured at the 2005 World Pork Expo by National Hog Farmer's New Product Panel (See the July 15, 2005, National Hog Farmer, page 24).

However, Yeske says the numbers from a couple of recent trials are starting to favor performance with the Compost-A-Mat. The mat is biodegradable, eliminating the labor issue of cleaning up and bacterial contamination with rubber mats.

“The advantage with these mats is you don't have to wash and clean them; the disadvantage is the cost of the mat,” he says. One mat costs about $3.

When pigs have scours from E. coli or clostridium infections, or strep or staph infections, biodegradable mats become very attractive because of their one-time use, Yeske adds.

Pigs break up the mats by 10-14 days of age, by which time they no longer need them to keep warm and dry.

For more information, contact USA Solutions, LLC, Box 303, Waite Park, MN 56387; by phone (320) 363-7554; e-mail or Web site

Nutrition Linked To Lameness

A number of minerals and feed ingredients used alone or in combination may help minimize osteochondrosis.

A team of Kansas State University (KSU) researchers has concluded that very preliminary evidence suggests that feeding certain mineral supplements or feed ingredients may reduce the incidence of lameness in sows.

Lameness or osteochondrosis affects an estimated 85-90% of all pigs. Osteochondrosis, one of the two primary causes of sow removal, is the failure of cartilage to fully develop into bone, leaving an area of cartilage exposed.

The condition is very painful because of the high number of nerve endings that are essential to maintain balance and movement, says Jim Nelssen, KSU Extension swine specialist and one of the study group's authors.

But he cautions that this report provides very preliminary data, and more research will be needed before definitive recommendations can be made.

For more details of this research, included in the 2006 KSU Swine Day Report of Progress, go to and scroll down to Swine Day Reports.

Identifying Lameness

The two main changes in cartilage that have been identified with osteochondrosis are a loss of two important types of proteins within cartilage: proteoglycans and collagen type II. When these two proteins are deficient, the ability of the cartilage to repair itself is impaired.

This deficiency causes structural change of the main cartilage, resulting in the formation of abnormalities that reduce the ability of the joint surface to support the weight of the animal (see picture).

Several trials found no link between growth rate and osteochondrosis.

KSU conducted an experiment to screen dietary ingredients in cartilage and bone metabolism for their role in number and severity of lesions due to osteochondrosis in grow-finish pigs.

Research Study

Eighty PIC gilts weighing 86 lb. were placed on test in an 84-day study, and assigned to one of eight treatments:

  1. Feeding a standard corn-soy “control” diet with 3.5% choice white grease (CWG).

  2. Replacing CWG with 3.5% fish oil, shown to provide a source of fatty acids that play an important role in the development of the immune system. Fish oil decreases gene expression of compounds involved with inflammatory responses.

  3. Providing proline and glycine, which serve as non-essential amino acids that comprise the basic parts of collagen, the fibrous protein contained in connective tissue and bones.

  4. Supplementing leucine, isoleucine and valine amino acids, which are highly concentrated proteins found in cartilage. These elements may be involved in preventing excessive protein loss due to periods of stress.

  5. Adding silicon at 1,000 ppm., a substance shown to stimulate collagen formation to increase bone mineral density.

  6. Providing 250 ppm. and 100 ppm. of copper and manganese, respectively, levels proven to stabilize and support bone structure.

  7. Supplementing diets with methionine and threonine, which have been shown to aid in collagen production.

  8. Combining ingredients tested in diets 2 through 7.

At the end of the trial, pigs were weighed and transported to the KSU Meats Laboratory where the left hind legs of the gilts were analyzed for lesions due to osteochondrosis.

The left femur was screened for cartilage irregularities and joints were checked for cartilage abnormalities and lesions.

Bone, Joint Evaluations

As depicted in Table 1, pigs fed diets containing fish oil or silicon tended to have a higher severity score for external abnormalities, compared with pigs in the other dietary treatments.

Pigs fed high levels of methionine/threonine, copper manganese or silicon tended to have lower cartilage lesion severity scores, compared with controls or other dietary groups.

Moreover, pigs fed high levels of methionine/threonine or the combination diets containing all ingredients tended to have lower total severity scores than those pigs fed the control diet or fish oil, says Nelssen.

Plus, pigs fed additional copper manganese, methonine/threonine or the diet containing all ingredients recorded lower overall severity scores, compared with scores of pigs fed the control or fish oil diet.

Pigs fed diets with added amino acids had lower external and total severity scores than other groups, but pigs fed diets containing minerals (silicon or copper and manganese) tended to have lower cartilage severity scores and lower overall severity scores.


High levels of methionine/threonine tended to reduce the total severity score, while those feed ingredients plus silicon or copper and manganese may reduce the severity of lesions due to osteochondrosis.

Methionine/threonine is thought to have indirect effects on cartilage metabolism. Methionine may contribute to cartilage growth, while threonine can be converted to glycine, which relates to production of collagen.

“Feeding ingredients such as methionine/threonine, copper and manganese, silicon or a combination of these ingredients that are involved in cartilage and bone metabolism, may help reduce the incidence of osteochondrosis by either positively influencing cartilage/bone metabolism, or by preventing excess cartilage degradation,” says Nelssen.

Other KSU scientists contributing to this research work were: N.Z. Frantz; G.A. Andrews, DVM; M.D. Tokach; J.M. DeRouchey; S.S. Dritz, DVM; and R.D. Goodband.

Table 1. Effect of Different Nutrients on the Occurrence of Osteochondrosisa
Item Control Fish Oil Pro/Gly BCAAi Silicon Cu/Mn Meth/Thr Allb
Total animals/treatment 10 10 10 10 10 9 10 10
Animals with lesions 9 9 9 9 6 7 7 7
Overall scores
Total facesb 5.9 6.2 3.6 5.6 3.4 3.9 4.4 4.3
Total abnormalitiesc 8.7 8.8 5.6 7.0 5.9 5.7 5.7 5.7
Total severityd 4.7f 4.9f 4.0fg 3.6fg 3.9fg 3.3fg 3.0g 2.8g
Overall scoree 17.1f 15.0fg 8.8gh 12.4fgh 8.4gh 6.4h 6.6h 7.0h
aEach value is the mean of 9 or 10 replications, with one pig per pen, initially 86 lb. and final wt. 290 lb.
bTotal faces showing lesions at the articular cartilage and growth plate, evaluating 12 cut surfaces.
cSum of external abnormalities, articular faces and growth-plate faces.
dSum of severity scores for external, articular-cartilage and growth-plate faces.
eCalculated as the number of abnormalities multiplied by the severity for each location, and then summed.
fghTreatments with different superscripts differ (P<0.05).
iBCAA are “branched chain amino acids” representing leucine, isoleucine and valine.

DDGS Still a Lot to Learn

It appears there are as many questions as answers about distiller's grains in hog rations.

Gregg Sample summed it up best at the “Distiller's Grains: Implications for the U.S. Pork Industry” meeting hosted by the Pork Checkoff in Des Moines, IA, in late November.

“It is a hot topic and there are a lot of opinions,” said Sample, director of nutrition and information at Next Generation Pork (NGP), LeRoy, MN. For the past four years, NGP has been feeding dried distiller's grains with solubles (DDGS) as 10-15% of finishing rations on a least-cost basis. Still, Sample admitted he has a lot to learn about the feedstuff.

After a day of listening to economists, ethanol marketers, researchers, feed industry experts and animal scientists, it is safe to say that many in the pork industry are in the same boat as Sample.

Questions about economics, nutrient content and digestibility, optimum feeding levels and performance results related to feeding DDGS in swine rations prevail.

Shifting Demand for Corn

One thing is crystal clear — the Corn Belt is experiencing a “run up” in ethanol production, which is already having an impact on livestock producers.

Bill Holbrook, a grain market analyst with ProExporter Network, said the demand for corn for ethanol production could match the demand in the U.S. feed industry within the next 10 years. He estimated more than 13 billion gallons of ethanol will be produced annually at current plants and those that will be expanded or come on line in the near future. That equates to five billion bushels of corn used for the renewable fuels industry.

“This is something we haven't seen before within the industry on a sustainable basis,” said Holbrook. He anticipates more volatility in corn markets and continued downward pressure on DDGS prices until the livestock industry develops a better understanding of how to use the feedstuff. “It is going to be a little bit wilder ride than we've had in the past,” he added.

Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics, Inc., Des Moines, characterized the burgeoning ethanol industry as “the greatest change in American agriculture since the tractor.” Meyer is concerned about the consequences of higher priced corn — especially for hog producers.

“We've added $5-6/cwt. to the cost of production,” based on $30-40/ton feed cost increases during the fall of 2006, he reminded.

Meyer said ethanol subsidies and high fuel prices would keep ethanol manufacturers in a highly competitive buying position. “Modern ethanol plants can pay somewhere around $4/bu. for corn,” he said.

In addition, the ethanol boom has shifted the competitive environment among livestock producers. Today, DDGS is not nearly as useful as a feedstuff for hogs or broilers as it is for cattle. DDGS is about $20/ton higher in value in dairy diets compared to swine diets, and about $12/ton higher in value for beef cattle.

Apples and Oranges

One of the growing pains associated with DDGS is the lack of agreement on standardized testing for nutrient content analysis, according to Richard Sellers, vice president of feed regulation and nutrition in the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA). “There are a lot of different analytical methodologies out there and you can't be trading these products based on apples and oranges,” said Sellers.

Last year the AFIA created a working group of suppliers and users of DDGS to review the issue. They found a great deal of variation in sampling methods and how feed samples are tested for moisture, crude protein, fat and fiber.

The working group supported a two-part study, sponsored by AFIA, the National Corn Growers Association and the Renewable Fuels Association, to be completed early this year. The first phase looked at efficacy and applicability of the various nutrient content testing methods used, and also attempted to shed light on how much variation occurs within a single laboratory. The second phase was designed to quantify the precision of the respective testing methods across several laboratories.

Another organization attempting to answer questions about ethanol-related issues is the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center in Edwardsville, IL. Director John Caupert explained the center's research on how to produce ethanol more efficiently. Recent projects have studied coproduct variability, including flowability and presence of mycotoxins, and ways production practices can affect coproduct components, such as moisture, other nutrients and physical attributes such as color.

The facility has a waiting list for new projects. In addition to research, the center offers workforce development and education for those employed or wanting to work in the ethanol industry.

What Suppliers Say

Sean Broderick of Commodity Specialists said a lot of work must be done to improve flowability and handling of DDGS, and to understand nutrient composition, such as whether color indicates true nutrient quality.

Broderick noted the strongest economic incentive ethanol producers face is to increase throughput. Improving the quality of coproducts is a lower priority, because DDGS reflects only 10-15% of economic returns to ethanol plants. When ethanol is produced faster, “variability is greater,” he added.

Randy Ives of U.S. Bioenergy agreed that improving flowability of DDGS is a high priority for ethanol distillers. Controlling sulfur and phosphorus plus providing consistent nutritional values is also important.

Ives recommended that pork producers build strong relationships with the plant supplying their distiller's grains. “Be plant specific,” he said. “You have to know what they are doing and what their philosophy is, day in and day out.”

Brian Knudson of Cargill urged pork producers and nutritionists to focus on nutrients such as energy, carbohydrates and protein, or more specifically digestible amino acids such as lysine, rather than simply focusing on ingredients (DDGS, soybean meal).

David Russell, vice president of product development and technology for Renessen, LLC, discussed a new processing technology at a pilot plant in Eddyville, IA, where Renessen's Mavera nutrient-dense corn will be processed into corn oil, a highly fermentable starch fraction for ethanol and a nutrient-rich swine feed that can replace corn in the swine diet.

This swine feed will allow for a reduction in soybean meal, eliminate the need for synthetic lysine and reduce feed-grade phosphorus. The low-oil, low-moisture feed also promises to improve flowability and handling in feedmills, compared to traditional DDGS. It is expected to be marketed beginning in 2009.

Renessen, LLC is a joint venture between Cargill and Monsanto.

Economic Impact

Iowa State University agricultural economist John Lawrence said pork producers would react to higher feed prices by marketing hogs at lighter weights. “Slaughter weights will be lower in the future than they have been in a $2.00 corn world,” he said. “The change won't be large, but 5-lb. lighter average weights are not out of the question. That's difficult for most of us to fathom because we've been in this mode of more pounds, more pounds, more pounds.”

The impact of lighter hogs on income will depend on each producer's situation, said Lawrence. Producers accustomed to selling hogs above the packer's highest premium weight range may not suffer because they will sell fewer pounds of pork but at higher prices.

In contrast, producers who are constrained by space and currently sell hogs below the premium weight in a packer grid will sell less weight for less money. “His return will drop off much quicker,” said Lawrence.

Citing performance data developed by Mark Whitney and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota for grow-finish pigs on 0, 10, 20 and 30% DDGS diets, Lawrence noted pigs on diets with 10% DDGS showed no difference in performance (vs. pigs fed no DDGS). The conclusion: DDGS at the 10% level is useful if it lowers feed costs.

However, with 20% and 30% DDGS diets, average daily gain, feed conversion and dressing percentages drop off. For example, for pigs on 30% DDGS diets, Lawrence calculated a $2.41/head difference in return over feed costs vs. pigs fed no DDGS. In other words, the 30% DDGS diet must save at least $2.41/head to be beneficial.

In addition to considering the impact of current corn prices and lower market weights, Lawrence cautioned producers to be on the lookout for other factors, such as carcass quality or packer premium changes, or shifts in DDGS content, quality and price.

Digestibility of Nutrients

University of Illinois associate professor of animal science Hans H. Stein reported on his research to illustrate the great deal of variation in nutrient digestibility of DDGS samples, particularly in lysine.

Stein measured 36 samples of DDGS for nutrient content. He found crude protein concentration levels ranging from 24 to 30% and lysine concentrations ranging from 0.54 to 0.99% (see Table 1).

But nutrient concentration is only part of the story, because poor digestibility can cause even greater variability in the nutrient value of a feedstuff. In further testing, Stein found that pigs could only digest 44 to 78% of the lysine available in the DDGS sampled (see Table 2).

“The samples that had the lowest lysine concentrations tended to have the lowest digestibility,” said Stein.

Knowing producers can't go out and measure lysine digestibility, Stein recommended having DDGS samples tested for nutrient content, then dividing lysine concentration by crude protein concentration to estimate a lysine digestibility. In Stein's studies, an average sample calculated to 2.86 lysine/crude protein %.

At 2.86 or higher, “you have a decent product,” said Stein. “The higher the number the better.” For anything lower than 2.8, Stein recommends producers either reject the batch of DDGS or negotiate to purchase it at a lower price.

Stein gave many reasons for the variability, including corn variety, the amount of solubles added back to DDGS, drying temperature, duration of processing and incomplete fermentation.

Sow Performance with DDGS

University of Minnesota animal scientist Jerry Shurson gave three informal observations from producers about the effect of feeding DDGS in sow diets:

  • Increase in lactation feed intake.

  • Sows are more content.

  • Sows may experience fewer constipation problems.

Shurson also provided background on three formal research trials:

A University of Minnesota study suggested that DDGS may have an effect on litter size. During the second reproductive cycle, researchers saw a tendency for an increase in litter size (almost a pig/litter) for sows fed DDGS diets during gestation or lactation or both, when compared to corn-soybean diets.

However, it is not known whether this increase in litter size response is repeatable, or if it can be achieved only by feeding diets the same as the treatment diet, which contained 50% DDGS in gestation and 20% DDGS in lactation.

The study also suggested that sows could experience a setback in feed intake if they went from corn-soybean meal diets during gestation to a DDGS diet during lactation.

At Michigan State University (MSU), a study looked at the effect of 15% DDGS on reducing sow performance and phosphorus excretion in manure, compared to sows on 5% beet pulp diets.

MSU researchers saw no significant differences in sow weight gain, litter weight, litter weight gain and number of pigs weaned between the two dietary groups. They saw decreases in manure phosphorus concentration in pigs on DDGS diets. However, Shurson noted, with a high fiber content in DDGS feeds, manure output may actually increase, so total phosphorus excretion may not be reduced significantly.

This trial concluded that adding 15% DDGS in sow lactation diets supports lactation performance and may reduce fecal phosphorus excretion.

Another University of Minnesota (unpublished) study compared feeding various levels of DDGS in lactation diets vs. a corn-soybean meal control diet. The study measured sow and litter performance; energy and nitrogen balance in sows; blood urea nitrogen; milk fat and protein content; and economics between diets, including 0, 10, 20, 30% DDGS and a 30% high-protein diet containing DDGS.

Sow and litter performance were not affected by feeding sows up to 30% DDGS in lactation diets. In addition, there was no difference in nitrogen uptake or nitrogen retention for sows on the DDGS diets (any level) and control diets without DDGS. Furthermore, there was no difference in nitrogen or fat content in milk between the control and DDGS diets. Blood urea nitrogen was lower for sows fed the 20 and 30% DDGS diets vs. the corn-soybean diets and 30% DDGS high-protein diets.

Nursery Pig Performance

Extension swine specialist Mark Whitney described two University of Minnesota experiments measuring the effect of increased DDGS levels (5, 10, 15, 20, 25% vs. control with no DDGS) on nursery pigs.

In both studies, pigs were fed in three stages (by age). Phase 1 (up to 4 days postweaning) consisted of a commercial pellet without DDGS. Phase 2 (fed for 14 days) and Phase 3 (fed for 21 days) consisted of meal diets with DDGS at levels indicated above, plus control diets without DDGS. The first study showed no effect on growth rate, feed intake, feed efficiency and final nursery weight between the control and any of the DDGS diets.

In the second study, a decrease in growth rate and feed intake was noted for pigs on DDGS diets during Phase 2, but no change in feed efficiency was noted. There were no changes in average daily gain, average daily feed intake or feed efficiency for any of the diets in Phase 3.

The DDGS diets had no effect on final nursery weight. Whitney concluded that diets with 5% or more DDGS during Phase 2 may cause decreases in feed intake and growth, but pigs can be fed up to 25% DDGS in Phase 3.

Grow-Finish Performance

Kansas State University (KSU) Ex-tension swine specialist Joel DeRouchey reported that while some research trials indicate that 10 to 15% DDGS in grow-finish diets may or may not decrease growth rate, research has consistently shown that levels of 20% or more have lowered performance.

Ranges of 3-5% reduction in average daily gains were seen in recent trials at KSU, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri and at The Hanor Company. Reductions in carcass yield have also been reported when pigs were fed any level of DDGS.

DeRouchey recommended feeding no more than 10% DDGS in grow-finish rations at the start, then watching results over time. “Producers should closely monitor any performance changes and make adjustments to inclusion levels as needed,” said DeRouchey. “You need to monitor your closeouts and whether there are any changes in carcass data.”

Feeding distiller's grains is also known to increase iodine levels in carcasses due to unsaturated fats in the corn oil in DDGS. DeRouchey said limited research data currently exists, but feeding recommendations to address this concern under normal commercial conditions should be available in 2007.

DeRouchey also urged producers to choose carefully when purchasing distiller's grains, because quality varies from plant to plant and within a plant, over time. “When using distiller's grains, understand the quality of product you are purchasing to determine the economics of its use.”

For More Information

Speaker notes from the conference are available at A video presentation will also be posted online, according to National Pork Board officials.

The meeting was sponsored by the Iowa Pork Producers Association, National Pork Producers Council, Renewable Fuels Association, Monsanto, Iowa Corn Promotion Board, National Corn Growers Association and Iowa Agribusiness Export Partnership.

Table 1. Composition of Samples
Item Avg. Range
Crude protein, % 27.20 24.1-30.1
Ether extract, % 10.20 8.60-12.6
GE, kcal/kg DM 5,429 5,272-5,588
Starch, % 7.27 3.8-11.4
Phosphorus, % 0.71 0.51-0.78
Lysine, % 0.78 0.54-0.99
Acid detergent fiber, % 9.86 7.2-17.3
GE=gross energy; DM=dry matter
Table 2. Percent of Amino Acids in 36 samples of DDGS
Item Range Avg. NRC NRC*
Lysine, % 44-78 63 59
Methionine, % 74-89 82 75
Cysteine, % 66-81 73 60
Threonine, % 62-83 71 65
Tryptophan, % 54-80 69
Isoleucine, % 67-83 76 79
Valine, % 66-82 756 67
*National Research Council
SID=Standardized Ileal Digestibility

Ad-Lib Feeder Boosts Sow, Pig Performance

The constant push for production efficiency has producers extending weaning ages, increasing nutrient demands of sows nursing a larger litter, longer.

A recent study by University of Minnesota researchers in a 1,275-sow commercial herd showed sows consuming less than 9 lb. of feed during the first two weeks of lactation had a 27% greater chance of being culled. Researchers also reported the likelihood of a sow being culled dropped by 11% with every pound increase in average daily feed intake during lactation.

Clearly, ensuring that sows receive the feed they need improves their reproductive efficiency and longevity.

Two commercial herds, one in east central Iowa, the other in southern Minnesota, have turned to a lactation feeder that allows sows to eat as much as they want, when they want. Manufactured by Osborne Industries, Inc., the ad-lib feeder adapts to the headgate of any conventional farrowing crate.

Gamble Pays Off

Steve Kruse, production supervisor of three Pipestone Systems operations in Iowa, “took a bit of a gamble” when he included the new lactation feeder when ordering farrowing crates for the 2,600-sow Prairie Gold farrow-to-wean unit built in 2001.

While planning the unit near Winthrop, IA, Kruse focused on improving sow performance, with an emphasis on heavier weaning weights. The Osborne feeder had seen limited application in the field, but the capability of offering sows their full daily feed needs appealed to Kruse. As an added bonus, the feeder would potentially reduce labor.

The gamble paid off. Kruse confirms the feeder's effectiveness by comparing PigChamp production data in the Prairie Gold operation to a 3,400-sow farm in the Pipestone System equipped with conventional, bowl-type lactation feeders and twice-a-day feeding. This farm is referred to as Farm “B” for comparison.

Prairie Gold is stocked with PIC Line-42 females and Farm B has Genetiporc F2-Line females. All are bred to PIC Line 327 boars. Production and sow culling rates have been somewhat affected by outbreaks of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). Currently, both herds are considered to be PRRS stable.

What the Records Show

In a comparison of second and third quarter 2006 production records, Kruse says weaning weight averages and the percentage of sows bred by seven days are good indicators that the sows at Prairie Gold are milking better and maintaining better body condition. He attributes both assets to higher feed consumption (see Table 1, page 14).

“The biggest thing is weaning weights,” he says. “Prairie Gold can always wean pigs a couple of pounds heavier (than Farm B) at the same age bracket, just from more sow feed intake, even during the summer heat.” Sows receive essentially the same diet at both locations.

Granted, Prairie Gold pigs are older at weaning, but Kruse says the ad-lib sow feeders help provide the additional feed needed to nurse litters an average of 2-3 days longer, and still send sows back to the breeding barn in better condition. Farrowing rooms are currently being added to Farm B to lengthen lactations.

Manager Jeff Kinney came to Prairie Gold from Farm B. “We were weaning 11-12 lb. pigs at that farm,” he says. “Every load I've seen go out of here (Prairie Gold) has averaged over 15 lb. Last week we sent out a load that averaged 16.4 lb. (averaging 21 days old).

“And the sows don't drop a lot of weight here,” he continues. “We don't see many skinny sows coming out of the farrowing rooms.”

Kruse also points out that the Prairie Gold operation consistently beat Farm B for total pigs born by about a half a pig per litter.

Based on the Kansas State University feed calculator, average daily feed intake/sow averages about 2 lb. higher at Prairie Gold than Farm B, where lactating sows are hand-fed twice daily and gotten up three times/day.

Lactation feed costs naturally run slightly higher at Prairie Gold, but Kruse feels it balances out because sows require less feed to get them back into condition during gestation.

“Sure, you're feeding more expensive feed for 20-21 days, but you're feeding less during the 114 days of gestation,” he notes.

Managing the Feeders

“On any sow farm, those first three days are very critical to getting sows to take off,” Kruse explains. “We hand-feed sows twice a day the first three days after farrowing (at Prairie Gold). Sows get two 2-lb. feedings the first day, two 3-lb. feedings the second day and two 4-lb. feedings the third day. We get them up twice a day and scrape the crates, making sure they're feeling well.”

Satisfied that the sows are eating and feeling well, the flex-auger feed drops are opened. Prairie Gold has Osborne's S110 feeders, which includes a 4-in. PVC pipe with a capacity of about 14 lb. of feed. Connected to this vertical tube is a transparent tube that holds another 10 lb. of feed and runs diagonally from the supply line to the 4-in. vertical pipe.

Walking each farrowing room every day helps the staff find sows that are not eating well. “If the upper (transparent) tube is still full, you'll know those sows aren't eating,” explains Kinney. Pig condition is another good indicator, he says. On average, most sows eat 12-14 lb./day.

“If you run the delivery augers once a day, there is 24 lb. available to each sow. You don't have to worry about whether an employee is over-feeding or under-feeding sows,” Kinney adds. “They can concentrate on taking care of the newborn pigs and the sows.”

“It's an ongoing training issue to maximize sow feed intake without throwing her off feed,” explains Kruse. “With this feeder, she eats what she wants. She has to spin the wheel to get more feed, but she never gets so much that she can gorge herself, and there's not enough in the trough that she can waste it.”

If hand feeding is preferred, Osborne offers the S100 feeder, which includes a transparent, calibrated, volumetric hopper, making it easy to track feed consumption. The company's patented mechanical flow system features a paddle-wheel-type agitator that the sow must spin to call for more feed.

Hand Feeding Preferred

At Independent Pork Partners (IPP) near New Richland, MN, the family-owned-and-managed 1,650-sow operation subscribes to daily hand feeding of sows in lactation.

Brad Stenzel, part owner and general manager, says they tried a lot of different ways to get more energy into sows in an effort to get heavier pigs at weaning. Normally, lactating sows were fed in the morning, then before the staff left in the late afternoon. For a time, they hired someone to do a third feeding at night, but that created a whole new set of problems, he says.

The Osborne feeders were tested in one of the 11, 24-crate farrowing rooms. Sow performance on 12 Osborne feeders was compared to 12 conventional, stainless steel bowl feeders. All sows were fed 6 lb. of feed twice a day, with the uneaten feed dumped and weighed before each feeding.

“We dumped more out of the stainless steel feeders, but the Osborne feeders were licked clean,” explains IPP farrowing manager Becky Mudgett. The daily feedings were increased to two, 12-lb. feedings the second week. Sows with the Osborne feeders ate 2-4 lb. more, on average.

Finally, they filled the Osborne feeders to capacity, about 26 lb., but the capacity of the existing feeders was 6 lb./feeding, so those sows received a maximum of 12 lb./day. None of the Osborne-fed sows fell below 12 lb./day and some ate up to 18 lb., she reports.

“We tried feeding sows with the regular feeders three times a day, but it seemed like they didn't want to get up and eat at every feeding,” adds IPP manager Albert Fenton. “And, if the feed got wet, some of those sows wouldn't touch it, so we'd have to dump it in the pit.”

The side-by-side comparison was repeated on the next group with similar results.

“It was kind of a no-brainer to go to a system that would keep fresh feed in front of the sows all of the time,” Stenzel says. They chose the S100 model because they preferred to hand-feed the sows. The calibrated, volumetric hopper allows them to more accurately record the amount of feed sows actually consume each day.

The new feeder was adapted to the existing farrowing crate head gate, gaining 4 in. of space in the crate. That was a big selling point for Fenton. “The sows can lay completely flat in the crate without putting their heads in the feeder. It's a comfort issue for the sow, and it's easier for them to get up and down and to expose their underlines for the pigs,” he explains.

“Our sows come out of the farrowing crate in 10 times better condition with this feeder,” exclaims Fenton. “Before we had so much variance — so many skinny sows and some fat sows. Now, they're all pretty even. The only thing we've changed is the feeder.”

The feeders were installed in all farrowing rooms in March 2006. In a 10-month comparison of PigChamp data, March-December 2005 vs. March-December 2006, they cite the following advantages:

  • Gained 0.41 pigs weaned/litter (9.51 vs. 9.92);

  • Reduced age at weaning by 1.55 days (18.14 vs. 16.59);

  • Although younger, litter weights were 5.71 lb. heavier (106.03 vs. 111.74);

  • Wean-to-service interval was shortened 0.65 days (7.19 vs. 6.54); and

  • Percent bred by Day 7 improved 1.02% (87.55 vs. 88.57).

Those improvements are reinforced by rolling 13-week and 52-week benchmarking data provided by Swine Management Systems (SMS). Table 2, featuring select entries from a Nov. 4, 2006 report, provides a percentile ranking for IPP compared to the 330 farms (603,736 sows) in the dataset, plus a benchmark compared to the average of the top 50% in the dataset. As the table indicates, IPP ranked 29th in the 13-week average and 65th in the 52-week average for all farms represented.

Some of the sows that were first fed on the new feeders were cycling through the farrowing rooms again in late November 2006, when Fenton noted: “We've seen an average increase of about three-quarters of a pig per litter for pigs born alive for sows fed on the Osborne feeder. I attribute that to the better condition of the sows.”

Feeding Routine

All lactation feeders are filled each evening and the amount of feed eaten for the day is recorded on a sow card. Each sow receives a little more feed than she ate to ensure she has all she wants. For example, if she eats 10 lb., she'll get 12 lb. the next feeding.

“It's really funny how sows have different eating patterns,” Fenton remarks. “Some sows eat 9 lb. every day, while the next sow will eat 12 lb. one day, then 4 lb. the next, then 12 lb., and then 4 lb.”

That's where the Osborne feeder shines, he says. “With the old feeders, you'd have to guess what she's going to eat tomorrow. If she cleaned her feeder, you'd give her a pound more. If she didn't, you'd give her the same. But what if tomorrow was her day to eat 12 lb. instead of 4 lb.?” he asks. “With the new feeders, she always has more than she'll probably eat and she can eat whenever she prefers to eat.”

The 26- to 27-lb. total capacity has simplified weekend feedings, too. Feeders are filled Friday evenings, which lasts most sows through the weekend. A few receive extra feed as needed during the Saturday and Sunday walk-through. “I don't like to see levels go below 12 lb.,” Mudgett explains. “Most eat between 12 and 18 lb./day, with a few eating up to 20 lb.”

Payback Potential

With sows eating more, Fenton knew the feed tab in lactation was edging upward, so he took a three-month snapshot and made a comparison. The difference: They fed about 9,000 lb. more lactation ration than with the original feeders. With IPP production targeted at 41,000-plus pigs/year, the extra feed costs them about 7¢/pig going out the door, he says.

“That's spreading the costs across our whole production — breeding, weaning, sow condition, etc. In fact, we're getting a better premium on our cull sows because they're good sows — no rails or skinny sows,” he adds.

Now they can cull sows based on poor performance, age or if they need fewer sows in breeding, Mudgett adds.

The only disadvantage with the feeders is that water and excess feed tends to settle in the bowl when farrowing rooms are pressure washed.

The best solution? “Buy yourself a good shop vac,” says Fenton. “Use it to suck the feed and water from the bowl after pressure washing.” Mudgett also uses the shop vac to remove the excess feed from the feeder hopper before rooms are cleaned. “It's still good feed, so we recycle it,” she adds.

The S100 feeder with the translucent hopper lists for $180, while the S110 model with a 4-in. feed tube lists for $160.

Table 1. Quarterly Comparison of Osborne S110 Feeder to Conventional Lactation Feeder at Prairie Gold
Prairie Gold Farm B
2nd Qrtr. 3rd Qrtr. 2nd Qrtr. 3rd Qrtr.
Breeding Performance
Wean — 1st service interval, days 6.3 6.8 6.9 6.8
Sows bred by 7 days, % 91.5 89.3 83.2 82.6
Farrowing Performance
No. sows farrowed 1,502 1,651 1,923 1,930
Avg. parity 3.4 3.2 4.0 3.7
Avg. total pigs/litter 13.1 13.1 12.6 12.4
Avg. pigs born alive/litter 11.6 11.9 11.2 11.1
Farrowing rate, % 75.2 82.6 86.0 87.2
Farrowing interval, days 143 147 140 143
Litters/mated female/yr. 2.39 2.45 2.50 2.57
Weaning Performance
No. litters weaned 1,449 1,644 1,924 1,981
Pigs weaned/litter 9.9 10.0 9.6 9.9
Avg. pig wean wt., lb. 14.6 13.3 11.7 11.6
Avg. wean age, days 20.2 20.3 17.5 16.7
Pigs weaned/mated female/yr. 23.7 24.5 24.0 25.4
Source: PigChamp
Table 2. Independent Pork Partners Farm Benchmarking Report
Pigs weaned/mated
female/year —
out of 330 farms
and 603,736 females
13-week average ranked 29th 52-week average ranked 62nd
11/04/06 Percentile Benchmark (average top 50%) 11/04/06 Percentile Benchmark (average top 50%)
Breeding Performance
Percent bred by 7 days 88.4% 64% 84.5% 88.9% 64% 88.9%
Wean to 1st service interval, days* 6.79 49% 6.7 6.61 57% 6.6
Farrowing & Weaning Performance
Farrowing rate, % 88.8 90 84.9 87.5 87 84.6
Avg. parity of females farrowed 3.31 47% 3.25 3.33 45% 3.21
Pigs born/litter 12.81 82% 12.49 12.61 80% 12.30
Live born/litter 11.39 74% 11.39 11.34 74% 11.24
Pigs weaned/litter farrowed 10.03 73% 10.05 9.83 68% 9.92
Pig weaning age, days 16.7- 19% 18.4 16.7- 16% 18.6
Avg. litter weaning weight, lb. 118.4+ 73% 105.8 111.1+ 68% 104.9
Avg. pig weaning weight, lb. 12.0+ 69% 10.6 11.9+ 68% 10.2
Herd Performance
Litters/mated female/year 2.55 95% 2.43 2.48 90% 2.42
Pigs weaned/mated female/year 25.60 91% 24.51 24.46 81% 23.93
Pounds weaned/mated female/year 306.73+ 83% 259.11 290.00+ 84% 244.35
Pigs/crate/year 161.56+ 87% 153.73 156.46+ 87% 145.01
Mated female non-productive days* 31.17- 73% 34.65 31.38- 82% 34.88
*Lower number is better performance. Source: Swine Management Services, LLC; + is > 5% over benchmark; — is < 5% below benchmark.

Fiber's Role in Sow Welfare

Heavy doses of fiber curb appetite and improve welfare of gestating sows.

Hungry, pregnant females often display certain stereotypic behaviors that suggest frustration and an elevated desire to eat.

Keeping them content with heavy doses of dietary fiber may be the answer to curbing hunger pangs and improving welfare, says a University of Minnesota-Morris swine nutritionist who studied the actions and postures of gestating sows to measure the correlation between behavior and feeding motivation.

Studies have listed stereotypical behaviors as motions that are repeated regularly, serve no obvious function and are useless to the animal, explained Lee Johnston at the Minnesota Nutrition Conference in St. Paul last fall.

These behaviors can include, but are not limited to bar biting, sham or vacuum chewing (chewing motion that is not associated with feeding) and nosing or licking the floor or feeder when feed is not present.

In addition, time spent standing and/or active, as opposed to resting, is used to indicate hunger because sows do not appear satisfied, Johnston added.

“The sow is a lightening rod for welfare questions. The occurrence of undesirable stereotypic behaviors is often used to measure sow welfare. They are limit-fed and hungry, and it causes an increase in unnatural behaviors,” he pointed out. “We'd like to see sows resting more, so we looked at treating the symptom by changing the diet.”

An obvious approach to reducing hunger and the associated stereotypes is to offer pregnant sows more feed. Unfortunately, this approach also supports excessive maternal weight gain during pregnancy, which could cause sows to back off feed during lactation and impact sow longevity. Higher feeding levels also result in larger sows that do not easily fit in their existing accommodations.

Soluble Fiber Preferred

Johnston prefers ingredients that contain high levels of soluble fiber vs. insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber has a higher nutritional value that's more readily fermented in the gastrointestinal tract of sows and is more effective in improving their welfare, he said.

Fermentation increases production of short-chain fatty acids, which are readily absorbed through the intestinal wall into blood. These fatty acids are available as an energy source for a sustained period after each meal.

In fact, diets containing very high levels of fibrous feed ingredients can be just as digestible as high-starch diets for gestating sows, Johnston explained.

Shredded beet pulp has consistently shown positive effects on sow behavior. It is high in soluble fiber highly fermented by sows. Johnston advised against pelleted pulp.

The diets listed in Table 1 are targeted at achieving 30% neutral detergent fiber (NDF), which is a rather high level of fiber, Johnston noted.

“This level of fiber seems necessary to significantly reduce stereotypic behaviors. Unfortunately, some of these diets will have difficulty flowing through our typical commercial feed handling systems,” he said.

The beneficial effects of high-fiber diets will only be realized if the sow's nutrient requirements for maintenance, growth and reproduction are met. In other words, the data indicates there is one level of nutrient/feed intake to support acceptable reproductive performance and a higher level for improved sow welfare.

Set in Their Ways

“Stereotypic behaviors increase as sows age, and high-fiber diets become less effective in reducing behaviors in older sows,” Johnston said. They develop a consistent repertoire of behaviors, including stereotypic behaviors that are elicited by feeding. Regardless of diet composition, sows express these behaviors when fed. Back in 1993, a team of researchers referred to this phenomenon as “channeling” of behaviors, he added.

In an effort to see if feeding management influences behaviors, sows were offered two meals per day instead of one. The theory was a second feeding would reduce a sow's need to exhibit the stereotypic behaviors.

Unfortunately, the time sows spent expressing the behaviors actually increased, reported Johnston. “We just got them excited twice a day instead of once.” So regardless of fiber content, frequent feeding is not likely to reduce behaviors in sows that already display abnormal activity.

Johnston felt, however, that more frequent feeding may reduce development of stereotypic behaviors in young sows.

The balance of evidence suggests that diets high in fiber will reduce stereotypic behaviors in sows and increase their level of satiation, he said. Currently, the assumption is that a decline in stereotypic behaviors equates to an improvement in welfare of the sow.

“The main message is that fiber is good for gestating sows; however, it will take very high levels to significantly reduce stereotypic behaviors. We need to work on additional approaches, probably using fiber and other ingredients to control these undesirable behaviors and their underlying causes,” he said.

Johnston offered these tips to minimize stereotypic behavior in a commercial system:

  • Provide diets containing over 30% NDF;

  • Provide high soluble/fermentable fiber;

  • Ensure maintenance, growth and reproductive requirements are met, and

  • Feed in meal form vs. pellets; it takes longer for sows to eat. Mash feed is good.

Table 1. Samples of Diets that Contain Over 30% NDF and the Nutrients They Provide
lb./ton Corn-SBM Soy Hulls Beet Pulp DDGS
Corn 1,635 1,081 815 850
Soybean meal 280 100 125 75
Soy hulls 750
DDGS 1,000
Beet pulp 1,000
Dical/phos 45 43 40 25
Limestone 20 6 30
Salt 10 10 10 10
Vit./minerals 10 10 10 10
Diet properties
ME, kcal/lb. 1,478 1,270 1,293 1,573
Lysine, % 0.63 0.52 0.55 0.67
NDF, % 8.6 30.4 31.2 26.1
ADF, % 3.2 20.6 18.1 10.5
ME = metabolizable energy; NDF=neutral detergent fiber; ADF=acid detergent fiber; DDGS=distiller's dried grains with solubles

Facing Chronic Disease

Some producers are coping with persistent PRRS problems.

In many sow herds, once the initial outbreak of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) subsides, production often returns to normal. That's not so with chronic cases.

“Problem herds” may hold the key to advancing plans for long-term control and eradication of the PRRS virus, declares Minnesota veterinarian Gordon Spronk of the Pipestone (MN) Veterinary Clinic.

While control strategies for PRRS appear to work in many herds, other, similar herds sometimes fail to return to normal production, he reported at the Leman Swine Conference, St. Paul, MN.

These chronically infected herds require new strategies to address unique health issues and, in turn, to help chart a course to rid regions of PRRS virus, suggests Spronk.

PRRS Challenges

Hog density creates PRRS health challenges — and many areas of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa are prime examples, he explains.

For his talk, Spronk selected seven sow herds in the region and compared production data over the last six years. The herds range in size from 3,200 to 3,400 sows, operated as breed-to-wean sites.

During that production period, the clinical presentation of PRRS virus in those seven herds was characterized as:

  • Normal weaned pig production followed by episodes of increased rates of abortion (greater than 2%/week), and poor weaned pig performance (greater than 4% mortality eight weeks after weaning).

  • Repeated circulation of the same strain of PRRS virus at the sow site and in weaned pigs.

  • Variations in the signs of PRRS virus between these similar sow farms. Some of the farms experienced high abortion rates, while others had no clinical signs in sows, but suffered severe mortality problems in the nursery.

  • New PRRS isolates or strains were introduced to the sow farms by unknown sources.

  • Diagnostic tests were unable to predict weaned pig performance. Many times, workers in the nurseries were able to detect PRRS problems in the sow farm before clinical problems and diagnostic testing were able to confirm a problem.

All of the seven farms have their own on-site gilt developer units, and one farm has its own on-site composting facility to eliminate the rendering service from entering the site, says Spronk.

From clinical observations and diagnostic testing, Spronk concluded that 13 new PRRS viruses infected the seven sow farms over a four-year period.

Moreover, the viruses were different from farm to farm. “Our observation is we don't believe we are taking the same virus and moving it around between sow farms, because they are distinctly different as we can measure,” he adds.

Control Measures

Spronk provided details on a 3,400-sow herd, presenting the history of PRRS, the control measures and the results obtained.

Production was fairly normal in 2003, but tests revealed there was PRRS virus circulating in the herd. A commercial PRRS vaccine was used on a quarterly basis.

In early 2004, introduction of a new PRRS virus was confirmed, and use of the commercial vaccine was stopped. Serum inoculation using a PRRS strain isolate injected at mid-gestation was then adopted as a control measure. The serum strain was prepared on-farm from replacement gilts that were infected with a field strain of the PRRS virus.

After a time, the sow herd experienced a new PRRS outbreak. Testing revealed introduction of a new strain of PRRS virus, known as MN 184, says Spronk. Serum injection at mid-gestation was repeated to provide immunity for the herd from further breaks.

However, due to repeated reproductive problems and severe challenges in wean-to-finish performance, it was decided to close the farm. The sow farm is currently in the middle of a PRRS elimination program.

This farm highlights the perplexity of PRRS virus infections in dense production areas, says Spronk. In short, it takes a while for reproductive performance to improve.

Even so, for 2005, this farm achieved 25 pigs/sow/year (p/s/y), and was looking to reach 26 p/s/y for 2006.

But persistent poor pig performance in the wean-to-finish phase has everyone at the sow farm scratching their heads, he says.

PRRS Conclusions

That's led Spronk and associates to conclude that in this subset of seven sow farms, there is a 50% chance of a new PRRS infection occurring every two years.

“Depending on the clinical presentation of the PRRS isolate, herd elimination may be necessary in the most severe cases in order to remain profitable,” he explains.

Spronk's final four observations on problem PRRS herds include:

  • New PRRS viruses replace old ones. “Once a new PRRS virus comes in, we cannot isolate the old virus.”

  • PRRS virus varies in its initial impact on sow farms. In the sow herd described, the virus caused performance bad enough that the market would discriminate against hogs from this farm. “If the buyer knew hogs were coming from this farm, there was either a discount on them, or the market didn't want them at all,” says Spronk.

  • Clinical signs of PRRS may appear first in the nursery and not the sow farm. When this happens, current control procedures may not work, and a herd elimination plan is often implemented.

Tough PRRS Virus

University of Minnesota immunologist Michael Murtaugh confirms Spronk's observations — the PRRS virus is indeed changing in Minnesota.

Back in 2001, the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory confirmed just one case of the PRRS strain known as MN 184, says Murtaugh. By 2005, the lab reported 235 cases of the PRRS strain.

This is a highly virulent strain of the PRRS virus, and the jump in reported cases is not good news for the Minnesota swine industry, he stresses.

PRRS Research Consortium Advances Knowledge Base

In order to expedite the growth of scientific knowledge about porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), a broad coalition of PRRS researchers joined forces, forming what is known as the “Big Pig” Project. Bob Rowland of Kansas State University and Jeff Zimmerman, DVM, of Iowa State University were project leaders.

This group of scientists was assembled to coordinate research efforts to understand PRRS virus replication, persistence and immunity, according to Joan Lunney, research scientist in USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), one of the eight coalition members.

“The Big Pig project represents the first comprehensive study of PRRS virus replication and immunity within a single, relatively large population of experimentally infected pigs,” she explains.

For this study, 109 pigs were infected with PRRS virus at Iowa State University (ISU) and sampled by Zimmerman's group every two weeks up to 203 days. There were 56 pigs from matched litters in the uninfected controls.

More than 20,000 pig samples were distributed to five institutions involved in the study: ISU, Kansas State University, South Dakota State University, IDEXX Laboratories and USDA-ARS. Samples were also sent to coalition members at the University of Minnesota, the University of Michigan and USDA's National Animal Disease Center at Ames, IA.

The results from this project will be compiled and deposited in a single Web-based database for use by all coalition members and other researchers.

As reported by Zimmerman at the Dec. 2 International PRRS Symposium in Chicago, six conclusions were reached:

  • Virus replication or growth is extensive during the grow-finish phase of production. When pigs reached market weight of 250 lb., 147 days after infection and 168 days after farrowing, nearly 60% of pigs remained positive for PRRS virus infection in tissues.

    “The virus load was much greater than predicted, and identifies a continuous source of virus that can break back into the nursery (intra-farm transmission) or spread to other farms (inter-farm transmission),” says Lunney.

  • In regards to growth performance, PRRS virus infection results in a stratified population. On one end of the spectrum were normal appearing but infected pigs that grew at the same rate as control pigs.

    At the other end of the spectrum were about 15% of infected pigs identified as “light.” These “outliers” are responsible for the approximately $500 million/year in losses to the swine industry, says Lunney.

    “This is the first clear demonstration that PRRS virus alone impacts growth performance,” she adds. Followup studies are underway to determine whether immune factors such as cytokines (substances that are secreted by cells of the immune system) or growth factors contributed to slow development.

    This research could lead to identifying pigs that are genetically resistant to PRRS virus, and focusing on treatment of light pigs to restore optimal growth performance in PRRS virus-infected herds.

  • There is no correlation between acquired immunity and virus load in serum or tissues. These results support previous work, and are important for the development of interventions that prevent infection vs. those that impact immunity in infected pigs.

  • Diagnostic tests used to detect PRRS virus sometimes provide inconclusive results. Bioassays are used as the gold standard to detect the ability of a pig exposed to the virus to transmit the virus.

    In this study, polymerase chain reaction-based assays identified PRRS virus nucleic acid in tissues; however, the bioassay results for the same samples tested negative for the presence of infectious virus. These data suggest that viral RNA may be present, but in a non-infectious form.

  • The IDEXX commercial ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test for PRRS was able to confirm long-term viral antibody persistence in swine. The IDEXX Herdchek PRRS 2XR Antibody Test Kit detected PRRS activity 112 days post-exposure. The seropositive response persisted through day 182 in 26 out of 28 animals. These results prove that serum antibodies against PRRS virus can be detected well into late phases of infection, says Lunney.

  • Tests to predict persistence of PRRS virus are still unavailable. Serological and immunological tests have not identified any parameter indicative of viral clearance or continued persistence of the virus.

Overall, this set of carefully collected samples is just beginning to identify some key factors involved in the effect of PRRS virus on piglet growth and the development of disease, concludes Lunney.

Adjustable Farrowing Stall

Sow stall provides numerous space configurations.

A more animal-friendly sow farrowing stall system for producers who are striving to optimize animal well-being and productivity has been introduced by Chore-Time Hog Production Systems. The German-engineered stalls represent more than 20 years of experience in Europe. The adjustable stalls provide space for sows to enter and exit while protecting baby pigs. There are eight length adjustments and four width adjustments to provide conventional or diagonal space configurations that offer up to 20% more space. The stalls are available in galvanized or stainless steel construction. Stalls feature a self-actuated, feed-dispensing system with an easy-to-clean stainless steel trough and hopper. For more information, call (574) 658-4101, fax (574) 658-3471, e-mail or click on

Farrowing Mats

SaniZorb is a new generation of farrowing mats for piglets from Falcon Packaging & Transport. Mats are made from 100% recycled natural fibers, providing an environmental alternative to rubber, nylon or plastic mats. SaniZorb mats are biodegradable and can be easily disposed of in manure pits. Mats provide heat and help improve piglet survival rate. The mats come ready to use in dimensions of 14.75 × 20.75 in. More information is available at

Accounting Software

Red Wing Software announces the launch of CenterPoint Payroll software for the agriculture market. CenterPoint Payroll integrates with CenterPoint Accounting for Agriculture and acts as a stand-alone product for operations with other financial management systems. The software is ideal for employers who need to pay employees in a variety of ways, including different pay rates by shift, season or by job. Information is also available at

Data Logger

Wireless data loggers to monitor temperature and humidity levels in livestock facilities is available from Dickson to provide the ultimate flexibility in monitoring technology without any wiring constraints. The Dickson D250 and D251 data loggers feature an easy and affordable way of creating a monitoring network from your PC, eliminate the need for manual data downloading, provide alarm notification sent to your PC and come with easy-to-use software installed in minutes. For more information about Dickson's recorders and data loggers, go to, call (630) 543-3747 or e-mail

Animal Incinerator

Southern Breeze Fabricators, Inc. is offering several models of The Eliminator animal incinerators for disposal of animal mortalities. The units feature a wedge-shaped, self-feeding design with a 115-volt electrical system; 12-hour, one-step timer; removable grates; bottom-burning, easy ash cleanout; sterile residue; steel plate construction; and 1,200-1,500 °F burn temperature. A second burner and propane burner are options, as is a roll-back door and extra clean-out door. More information is available by phone (229) 336-9337, fax (229) 336-1844 or e-mail

Paylean-Tylan Combination

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new combination use of Paylean and Tylan that provides added flexibility for use in pigs weighing more than 240 lb. The new clearance permits Paylean to be fed at 4.5-9 g./ton in combination with Tylan Premix at 100 g./ton. The combination allows producers to join growth and carcass benefits of Paylean with the added ability of feeding Tylan to control ileitis during the final period before marketing. “This new clearance offers producers and veterinarians a new way to improve late-finishing performance and profitability, while controlling ileitis outbreaks,” says Mike Van Koevering, Elanco swine technical services manager. “In addition, because both products have zero withdrawal prior to market, they work with Pork Quality Assurance guidelines.” More information is available at (800) 428-4441 or

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Double-Wide Farrowing Doubles the Efficiency

Gains in labor and animal handling efficiency make this new building design popular — but it comes with a bigger price tag.

When it comes to large production systems, it's been accepted that sows make a long trek from the gestation stall to the farrowing crate.

That's been the case until staff at the Carthage Veterinary Service (CVS) Ltd. of Carthage, IL, came up with a more efficient design to ease the relocation burden for man and beast.

Last August, the first CVS-designed, double-wide farrowing facility was built as part of a start-up operation called Lone Hollow, LLC, says Steven Hoffpauir, DVM, CVS consultant for the Augusta, IL, farm. Lone Hollow is a 5,800-sow, farrow-to-wean operation connected to breeding-gestation facilities.

“Instead of having 18 rooms all in a row down a long hallway, the double-wide unit has rooms across from each other to cover more ground faster and make it easier on the sows,” he explains.

It's a fragile time for “heavy-bred” sows. The long walk from gestation on Day 112 is strewn with feces and urine where sows may slip and slide as they tire from the long journey, says Hoffpauir.

In the new design, when it comes time to farrow, small groups of sows are brought from breeding-gestation barns that flank both sides of the farrowing facility.

Once they reach the farrowing area, workers use a herding board to walk sows, three abreast, down a spacious 7-ft.-wide central hallway that divides the two sets of nine rooms. The process works well, usually without problems or sows trying to turn around, he says. Sows enter rooms that feature four rows of 14 crates.

So far, only gilts have made the trek in this start-up herd, but the Illinois swine veterinarian says the real advantage to the shorter trek to farrowing will most likely become apparent when sows reach older parities and heavier weights, and may face lameness issues.

Walking Distance Is Halved

Steve Baker, farm manager at Lone Hollow, says instead of a ¼-mile walk from gestation to farrowing, the jaunt is about ⅛-mile, meaning groups of sows can be moved from gestation and loaded into farrowing rooms in just 30-45 minutes.

Moving time has also become more efficient at weaning. In an hour or less, sows can be returned to breeding-gestation and weaners moved straight down the hallway and out the door to waiting trucks destined for owners' finishing barns in the area.

Built into one end of the double-wide farrowing facility is Baker's office, a disinfectant chamber and an extra farrowing room that has been split in half. One half is used for a 28-crate overflow farrowing room and the other half for a 550-head nursery, he explains.

The extra farrowing room simply permits Lone Hollow to adjust pig weaning age upward a bit, says Baker.

The extra nursery provides weaning flexibility. Normally, pigs are weaned three days a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday. “This extra nursery space allows us to wean on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if we need to, and hold those weaned pigs for 24 hours until they go on the truck,” he explains.

When those additional pigs are placed in the nursery holding room, they are put on pelleted feed, says Hoffpauir. To avoid shrink from the stress of being removed from milk, it's vital to move them out quickly.

Other Building Features

Farm manager Baker points to several other features that add to the efficiency of the double-wide farrowing unit:

  • Heating and ventilation. The farrowing rooms start out at 72°F and in five days temperatures are dropped to 68°F, where they remain throughout lactation. “We can keep the rooms a lot cooler with this system because we don't have wall inlets forcing in cool air all of the time,” says Baker. Every room utilizes 16 ceiling air inlets. Air flows in through cool cells, up through the attic, down from the ceiling and across the rooms.

    Not having wall inlets, especially along a common hallway, has really enhanced air quality and the overall environment, he stresses.

    “This summer, when it was hot, instead of being cool on one side of the farrowing rooms and hot on the other, the air was pretty evenly distributed across the whole area,” which is easier to do with a double-wide building, adds Baker.

  • Heat lamps on a pulley. Heat lamps can be adjusted individually, but they are also attached to a pulley system with a crank at the end of the rows that allows each row of lamps to be adjusted at the same time. It facilitates frequent adjustment of heat lamps, and is particularly useful at weaning so workers can quickly pull the lamps up and out of the way, he explains.

  • Double-curtained south end. Adjacent to the 9-ft.-high cool cell is a 6-ft.-high curtain that comes down from the top of the wall and a 3-ft.-high curtain that comes up from the bottom, effectively limiting, but not completely closing off, needed flow of fresh air into the cool cell and the rooms.

Farrowing Performance

Farrowing performance in the new double-wide barn has been impressive, with first-parity sows averaging nearly 11 pigs born alive/litter. Weaning performance is averaging about 10 pigs/litter weighing an average of 13 lb. at 20 days of age. So far the system is achieving 24 pigs weaned/mated female/year, says Baker.

Cost Considerations

Adding building efficiencies costs extra, says Hoffpauir. Figure $40/sow space more for the double-wide farrowing design. At 5,800 sows for the Lone Hollow site, the additional cost to build is about $232,000.

The payback for efficiently handling sows, providing sow comfort and easing the workload on farrowing crews may prove to be well worth that extra cost of construction in the long run.