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Free Stall Eases Feeding, AI Chores

Free Stall Eases Feeding, AI Chores

New hoop barn helps achieve consistent sow body condition and fits with organic production standards.

Three years ago, Organic Prairie pork producer Tom Frantzen and his son, James, planned and built a breeding-gestation barn that addresses the biggest challenge with loose housing in gestation — consistent sow condition.

Frantzen is a steadfast believer in organic pork production and the standards laid out by Organic Prairie Family of Farms based in La Farge, WI. That is not to say, however, that the Alta Vista, IA, pork producer is unwilling to capitalize on modern production methods and proven technologies.

Early in 2004, he began taking a hard look at ways to improve the lagging reproductive performance of his sow herd. “My intention was to get higher production from the number of sows I can manage fairly intensively,” he explains. “My goal was to eliminate the redundant work and concentrate my management efforts on producing more pigs per litter.”

Two issues quickly rose to the top of his priority list — gaining better control of feeding sows and curbing postweaning health issues that were taking a toll.

“We had poor reproductive rates, and our feed conversion and postweaning death losses were too high,” he explains. “Both will kill your profits.”

The herd health issues were ad-dressed first by closing the herd to outside breeding stock. The move paid off. “Postweaning death loss for the year is running the lowest it's ever been,” he says. With more pigs raised, he was able to reduce the size of the sow herd. That, in turn, cut overall feed costs and improved gain per pound of feed, which is a very big deal when organic corn is selling for $9/bu.

Next, Frantzen turned his attention to getting a better handle on reproductive performance in the sow herd. More consistent sow body condition was a top priority. With the herd closed, he was ready to tackle artificial insemination (AI), but the prospects of heat detection and inseminating sows in open lots and Cargill-type facilities were not very appealing.

He called in Tracy Harper, Harper Consulting, Mindoro, WI, who provides swine reproductive consulting services to Organic Prairie producers. Harper studied reproductive physiology at North Carolina State University, while gaining a Master's degree in animal science, and held positions with Carroll's Foods in North Carolina and, more recently, Babcock Genetics. In addition to consulting, she is an agribusiness and science technology instructor at Western Technical College in La Crosse, WI.

“With Organic Prairie producers, one of the first things I have worked on is improving sow condition because it's all over the place,” Harper explains. “It's very difficult to manage when sows are fed in groups or when they are mixed in groups of different-parity sows. I could see the hoop buildings would go a long way toward resolving those concerns.”

Frantzen, his son, James, and Harper began poring over various hoop barn designs that would fit with the Organic Prairie philosophy. He toured an Iowa State University farm with hoop barn gestation.

Homemade Gate Secures Sows

Frantzen settled on a 30×60-ft. hoop barn, and on Harper's recommendation, began searching for free-access feeding stalls. “I suggested it would be desirable to be able to close the rear gate during feeding to avoid competition between sows,” she says.

The father-son duo found some used 2×7-ft. gestation stalls and set to work on designing a gate mechanism that would allow them to open and close the rear gate from the front aisle while feeding. A one-way swinging gate seemed too cumbersome, so they decided to split the rear gate in the middle and mount it with drop rods. Next, they began tinkering with a mechanism that would work much like the scissor-action of a bus door.

After considerable trial and error, they attached two flat iron pieces to the top, inside portion of the split gates. The flat iron pieces are joined and bolted to a single, longer flat iron piece that is threaded through a length of square tubing welded to the top of each stall (see photos, page 9). This latter flat iron piece is bent to form a handle.

A hole is drilled in the flat iron piece, just ahead of the square tubing when the rear gate is closed. A bolt-washer-nut combination, short enough to fit through the square tubing, is secured in the hole. When the flat iron handle is lifted slightly and pushed, the rear gate opens. Pull on the handle until the bolt drops across the front lip of the square tubing, and the rear gate is closed and secured.

Frantzen bought the used stalls for just $15 each; $20 covered the cost of materials for each rear gate mechanism. A local machine shop cut and bent the pieces for assembly.

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Built with AI in Mind

Twenty-five feeding stalls are welded in a row and secured to the 10×60-ft. concrete pad poured on the east side of the hoop barn. Stalls are positioned to allow a 2-ft. walkway at the front and a 12-in. ledge at the back.

A 5-ft. concrete pad was poured at the south end of the building where two heated automatic water fountains are secured. That leaves a 20×55-ft. deep-bedded area for sows.

Three, 2×12-ft. boards make up the east sidewall of the barn, with the top board hinged to provide summer ventilation. “When open, the air passes through the stalls, then rises to the roof vent at the top of the hoop,” says Tom Frantzen, noting this late-construction design change has proven very beneficial.

Originally, space was allocated for a boar pen at the north end of the building, but that plan was scrapped in favor of housing boars nearby, but away from sows.

“We built the barn and the stalls with artificial insemination in mind,” James Frantzen explains.

Frantzen welded 25 gestation stalls together and secured them to the concrete slab. The flat iron pieces are configured to provide the scissor-action (above) to open and close the split rear gate when the handle is pushed or pulled. Sows are locked in the stalls for feeding and heat detection, but otherwise roam freely in the deep-bedded hoop barn

Controlled Feeding, Heat Detection

The months of planning, experimenting and installation paid off.

The daily chore of feeding the sows is much easier. “I feed all of the sows the same amount going down the row as I lock them into a stall,” Tom Frantzen explains. “Then, as I come back down the aisle, I give the sows with low body scores more feed. Sows nearing their farrowing date are fed a little more, too.”

The beauty of the barn-stall design is it takes the competition for feed out of the mix, Harper says. “Take away the food aggression and the sows are more relaxed. They know they can go and eat and nobody's going to bother them. I've never seen sows fight in this building — ever,” she adds.

Heat detection is made easier, too. In the evening, Frantzen brings the heat- check boar to the area originally set aside for a breeding pen at the north end of the barn. Sows in heat come to the fenceline and are marked. The next day, after sows have eaten, the heat check boar is brought back to confirm sows in standing heat. Sows are AI'ed, then bred again 24 hours later.

Frantzen also welded a set of angle iron tracks to the top of the stalls the full length of the barn. A shallow wooden box on steel wheels carries all AI supplies and is moved along as he inseminates the sows. “I wouldn't even think about doing AI without it,” he says.

Conception rates now consistently run over 90%. “We're raising more pigs from fewer sows,” he says.

Another benefit of the stall configuration — it's very easy to sort sows. If a sow needs to be moved to the farrowing facility, Frantzen simply opens the front stall gate and follows the sow down the aisle.

He also ran all electrical lines through conduit to make repairs or updating easier. “I tried to eliminate all of the little things that have been driving me crazy the last 30 years,” he says.

The tab for the building and equipment ran about $12,000, not including labor. With improved production from the sow herd, he figures the building will pay for itself in four years.

Plans are to hold the sow herd at 75-100 sows. The 380-acre farm is on a fixed, crop rotation program. “I don't sell any grain. It all goes into cattle or hogs — and hogs get the majority of it,” he explains. “It's a sustainable farm. The crops support the livestock and the livestock support the crops.”

Editor's Note: The trend away from housing gestating sows in individual stalls raises many questions. With this issue, we are kicking off a year-long series on various sow gestation housing options, including large and small pen designs, various feeding systems and the strengths and weaknesses associated with each. Some are relatively new. Others are more proven. All will add to the growing knowledge base needed to identify which best serves individual preferences and management styles.

Creep Feeding May Improve Postweaning Performance

Creep Feeding May Improve Postweaning Performance

Sow and piglet eating patterns could have an impact on their performance in later parities and in finishing, respectively.

Creating more creep feed “eaters” in a litter of baby pigs may help improve postweaning performance and offer additional benefits for smaller pigs, according to a recent Kansas State University (KSU) study.

Feeding highly digestible dry feed to baby pigs while still nursing the sow has been increasing in U.S. pork production operations the past few years. KSU researchers say this increase in creep feeding may be driven by a trend toward older weaning ages. However, evidence that creep feeding is beneficial is somewhat limited, especially when pigs are weaned at less than four weeks of age.

A number of studies have shown a positive relationship between preweaning growth and postweaning performance. Increasing nutrient availability for suckling piglets is considered a major contributor to improving birth-to-weaning growth rate.

Producers can make sure the baby pigs get the necessary nutrients in two ways — by feeding high, nutrient-dense lactation diets to improve sow milk output, or by providing highly digestible creep feed to piglets while suckling.

Previous studies have looked at the independent effects lactation feed intake and creep feeding can have on pre- and postweaning performance. However, no single study has focused on the joint effect of these two nutritional regimens.

It has been suggested that creep feeding reduces the nutritional load on lactating sows. Creep feeding may be especially beneficial to sows with large litters by helping to reduce lactation weight loss and wean-to-estrus interval.

KSU researchers set out to evaluate the effect lactation feed intake and creep feeding might have on sow body weight loss, sow backfat thickness and wean-to-estrus intervals. They also studied how creep feeding impacted preweaning and postweaning piglet performance.

Study Parameters

Twenty-eight sows from three batches farrowed in the fall of 2006 accounted for the 84 sows blocked according to parity and date of farrowing, and allotted to four experimental treatments. Treatments included ad lib vs. restricted lactation feed intake and no creep feeding vs. creep-fed litters.

Piglets were crossfostered within each block to standardize litter weights and litter size to more than 11 pigs. The creep-fed experiments offered pellets using a rotary creep feeder with a hopper. Pigs were weaned at 21 days of age.

Ad lib sows were allowed free access to a common lactation diet from the third day of lactation. Restricted sows were fed 25% less than those fed ad lib. Weekly sow feed intake was recorded to calculate total and average daily feed intake.

Sows were weighed and P2 backfat thickness (2.5 in. off midline at 10th rib) was measured postfarrowing and at weaning. Estrous detection, using a back pressure test, was performed twice a day from weaning until Day 13 after weaning to determine days to estrus and percentage of sows returning to estrus within 14 days.

At weaning, 624 out of 819 pigs were blocked according to initial weight and whether or not they had been creep fed. These pigs were used in three, 28-day nursery trials. Extra pigs were also housed in the nursery facility and fed a common diet. Pigs and feeders were weighed weekly until Day 28 postweaning to calculate average daily gain, average daily feed intake and feed-to-gain ratio.

Creating ‘Eaters’

A significant part of the research focused on testing the importance of creating “eaters” — the piglets within the litter that actually ate creep feed.

Chromic oxide was added to the creep feed to serve as a dye marker to indicate which pigs had eaten the feed. By taking anal swabs and analyzing fecal samples, researchers were able to determine the eaters in each litter. Non-eaters in the creep-fed litters were those pigs that never showed green-colored feces.

Pigs that were not provided with creep feed were designated as “no-creep” pigs. “The most interesting finding was that pigs that actually consumed creep feed, which were the eaters, grew faster and were heavier after weaning than pigs that had not consumed creep feed,” says Rommel Sulabo, KSU graduate student.

Creating more creep feed eaters in whole litters may be beneficial in improving postweaning performance. Therefore, Sulabo says there is a need to investigate methods by which feeding behavior can be encouraged. There is some indication that smaller pigs at birth have a higher probability of becoming creep feed eaters, while heavier pigs are more likely to become non-eaters. This suggests larger pigs have greater ability to compete for prime suckling positions on the udder, and given the choice, seemed to prefer milk over the creep feed, say the researchers. Creep feed, then, provides an alternative nutritional source for the smaller, less competitive pigs.

Lactation, Creep Feeding Interactions

The researchers also wanted to test the value of creep feeding when the nursing piglets' nutrient intake was compromised. To do this, sows fed on an ad lib basis were compared to sows fed at 75% of the level of the ad lib sows.

Although litters of restricted-fed sows had 33% greater creep feed intake than litters of ad lib fed sows from Days 3 to 7, no differences were observed in other periods (Figure 1).

Figure 2 indicates creep feed intakes greater than 0.1 lb./litter were attained from Days 13 and after.

About 59% of the creep-fed piglets were categorized as eaters, while 41% were categorized as non-eaters (Figure 3). Of pigs identified as eaters, 23%, 20% and 57% were positive for creep feed consumption on Days 7, 14 and 21, respectively (Figure 4).

Total creep feed intake did not differ between ad lib and restricted-fed sows, which suggests that a limited nutrient supply to both sows and litters did not drive piglets to consume more creep feed. About 72% and 77% of the total creep feed intake of litters of restricted and ad lib-fed sows, respectively, was consumed in the last week prior to weaning.

The researchers found there was no interaction between lactation feed intake and creep feeding. Creep feeding for 18 days did not affect sow body weight and backfat loss, but increased days to estrus. The researchers say the amount of litter creep feed intake observed in this study was too small to generate any appreciable, nutritional savings to lactating sows that would reduce using body reserves. The impact of creep feeding on reducing nutrition requirements of the sow may be greater with older weaning ages, but does not appear to be beneficial in a 21-day lactation period. The effects of lactation feeding level and creep feeding on sow performance are shown in Tables 1 and 2.

The effects of lactation feeding level and creep feeding on pig and litter performance are shown in Tables 3 and 4. Lactation feeding level had no effect on litter size at weaning and preweaning mortality rate. Ad lib sow feeding improved total and daily gains of litters and tended to increase litter weaning weights compared to limit-fed sows. Likewise, total gain, daily gain and weaning weights of individual pigs were higher with ad lib-fed sows. These results agree with other studies that demonstrate the benefits of high lactation feed intake on preweaning growth rate.

More to Come

This was the first in a series of three creep feeding experiments conducted by KSU researchers. Results of the other two experiments will be featured in an upcoming issue of National Hog Farmer.

KSU researchers involved in these projects included Rommel C. Sulabo; Mike D. Tokach; J.Y. Jacela; E.J. Wiedemann; Jim L. Nelssen; Steve S. Dritz, DVM; Joel M. DeRouchey and Robert D. Goodband. For additional information, contact Sulabo at (785)532-1270.

Table 1. Effects of Lactation Feeding Level and Creep Feeding on Sow Performance (Interactive Effects)ab
Lactation feeding level×creep feeding
Restricted Ad lib
Item No Yes No Yes
Number of sows 19 19 20 20
Lactation length, days 21.0 21.1 20.9 21.1
Average parity 1.5 1.6 1.5 1.6
Lactation feed intake, lb.
Total, Day 0 - 21 151.1 148.1 221.3 217.1
Average daily feed intake 8.0 7.9 10.9 10.6
Sow weight, lb.
Postfarrowing 475.6 487.0 463.8 478.2
Weaning 422.4 428.3 433.8 443.1
Change -53.9 -51.8 -30.8 -35.3
Backfat, in.
Postfarrowing 0.70 0.622 0.673 0.637
Weaning 0.496 0.476 0.528 0.484
Change -0.200 -0.146 -0.145 -0.153
Days to estrusg 4.7 5.7 5.1 5.2
Return to estrus, %h 73.7 68.4 90.0 90.0
aThree groups of sows (total = 78, PIC Line 1050) were blocked according to day of farrowing and parity and allotted to four treatments in a 2×2 factorial with lactation feeding level (Restricted vs. Ad lib) and creep feeding (No vs. Yes) as factors.
bThere was no significant interaction (P>0.10) between lactation feeding level and creep feeding on any parameter measured.
cSows on the restricted feeding program were fed 25% less than those fed ad lib.
dCreep feed with 1.0% chromium oxide was offered ad lib from Day 3 to weaning (21 ± 0.1 d).
e,fMeans in the same row with different superscript differ (P<0.05).
gFor sows returning to estrus within 14 days postweaning.
hPercentage of sows returning to estrus within 14 days postweaning.
Table 2. Effects of Lactation Feeding Level and Creep Feeding on Sow Performance (Main Effects)ab
Lactation feedingc Creep feedingc
Restricted Ad lib No Yes
Number of sows 38 40 39 39
Lactation length, days 21.1 21.0 21.0 21.1
Average parity 1.6 1.5 1.5 1.6
Lactation feed intake, lb.
Total, Day 0 - 21 149.6f 219.2f 185.9 182.9
Average daily feed intake 8.0f 10.8f 9.4 9.3
Sow weight, lb.
Postfarrowing 481.3 471.0 469.7 482.6
Weaning 425.4 438.5 428.1 435.7
Change -52.9e -33.0f -42.4 -43.5
Backfat, in.
Postfarrowing 0.661 0.653 0.689 0.630
Weaning 0.488 0.508 0.511 0.480
Change -0.173 -0.145 -0.178 -0.150
Days to estrusg 5.2 5.1 4.9e 5.4f
Return to estrus, %h 71.0e 90.0f 82.1 79.5
aThree groups of sows (total = 78, PIC Line 1050) were blocked according to day of farrowing and parity and allotted to four treatments in a 2×2 factorial with lactation feeding level (Restricted vs. Ad lib) and creep feeding (No vs. Yes) as factors.
bThere was no significant interaction (P>0.10) between lactation feeding level and creep feeding on any parameter measured; means of main effects are reported.
cSows on the restricted feeding program were fed 25% less than those fed ad lib.
dCreep feed with 1.0% chromium oxide was offered ad lib from Day 3 to weaning (21 ± 0.1 d).
e,fMeans in the same row with different superscript differ (P<0.05).
gFor sows returning to estrus within 14 days postweaning.
hPercentage of sows returning to estrus within 14 days postweaning.
Table 3. Effects of Lactation Feeding Level and Creep Feeding on Litter and Pig Performance (Interactive Effects)ab
Item Lactation feeding level × creep feeding
Restricted Ad lib
No Yes No Yes
No. of litters 19 19 20 20
Pigs/litter
Day 3 (start creep) 11.1 10.9 10.8 11.1
Day 21 10.3 10.5 10.1 10.7
Mortality, % 7.5 4.3 7.1 3.6
Litter weight, lb.
Day 3 (start creep) 38.2 40.3 36.5 40.2
Day 21 123.9 126.2 126.0 139.2
Litter weight gain, lb.
Total 94.6 94.8 97.6 108.2
Average daily gain 5.20 5.20 5.34 5.94
Pig weight, lb.
Day 3 (start creep) 3.8 3.8 3.7 3.8
Day 21 12.1 12.0 12.5 13.1
Pig weight gain, lb.
Total 9.2 9.0 9.6 10.2
Average daily gain 0.52 0.51 0.54 0.58
aThree groups of sows (total = 78, PIC Line 1050) were blocked according to day of farrowing and parity and allotted to four treatments in a 2 × 2 factorial with lactation feeding level (Restricted vs. Ad lib) and creep feeding (No vs. Yes) as factors.
bThere was no significant interaction (P>0.10) between lactation feeding level and creep feeding on any parameter measured.
cSows on the restricted feeding program were fed 25% less than those fed ad lib.
dCreep feed with 1.0% chromium oxide was offered ad lib from Day 3 to weaning (21 ± 0.1 d).
e,fMeans in the same row with different superscript differ (P<0.05).
Table 4. Effects of Lactation Feeding Level and Creep Feeding on Litter and Pig Performance (Main Effects)ab
Item Lactation feedingc Creep feedingd
Restricted Ad lib No Yes
No. of litters 38 40 39 39
Pigs/litter
Day 3 (start creep) 11.0 10.9 11.0 11.0
Day 21 10.4 10.4 10.2 10.6
Mortality, % 5.9 5.3 7.3e 3.9f
Litter weight, lb.
Day 3 (start creep) 39.3 38.6 37.4e 40.3f
Day 21 125.1e 132.6f 124.9e 132.7f
Litter weight gain, lb.
Total 94.7e 102.9f 96.1 101.5
Average daily gain 5.20e 5.64f 5.27 5.57
Pig weight, lb.
Day 3 (start creep) 3.8 3.8 3.7 3.8
Day 21 12.0e 12.8f 12.3 12.5
Pig weight gain, lb.
Total 9.1e 9.9f 9.4 9.6
Average daily gain 0.52e 0.56f 0.53 0.55
aThree groups of sows (total = 78, PIC Line 1050) were blocked according to day of farrowing and parity and allotted to four treatments in a 2×2 factorial with lactation feeding level (Restricted vs. Ad lib) and creep feeding (No vs. Yes) as factors.
bThere was no significant interaction (P>0.10) between lactation feeding level and creep feeding on any parameter measured; means of main effects are reported.
cSows on the restricted feeding program were fed 25% less than those fed ad lib.
dCreep feed with 1.0% chromium oxide was offered ad lib from d 3 to weaning (21 ± 0.1 d).
e,fMeans in the same row with different superscript differ (P<0.05)

Electronic Sow Feeding Lessons Learned

In 2005, Jimmy Tosh felt the time was right to step away from gestation stalls in favor of pen gestation with an electronic sow feeding system.

When James Coates was named production manager for Tosh Farms' 21,000 sows in August 2006, owner Jimmy Tosh listed the slumping reproductive performance of a 3,400-sow genetic multiplier unit near Martin, TN, as his top priority. Farrowing rates had dipped to 50% in some groups; sow mortalities had climbed to 20%.

When Tosh built the multiplier unit in 2005, he felt the time was right to step away from standard gestation stalls in favor of pen gestation equipped with an electronic sow feeding (ESF) system. But subpar performance the first year of operation was unsettling, and Tosh challenged Coates to “fix it.”

With little documented information available, and limited experience in managing sows in pens on ESF, Coates and the 15 employees at the site dug in their heels to learn how to manage the facilities better.

The site includes two, 121×301-ft. gestation barns, each divided into two rooms. The rooms have several 41×28-ft. gestation pens, equipped with the Osborne TEAM system. In addition, each large room has 108 breeding stalls, two, 41×28-ft. training pens and four, 16×21-ft. recovery pens.

Their efforts have paid off. In the past year, farrowing rate has risen to over 80% and sow mortality rate has dropped to just over 11%. “It is now one of our best performing farms,” says Jimmy's son, Jamey Tosh.

In 2007, pigs/sow/year (PSY) was 25.19 for inventoried females at the Martin site, compared to 24.6 at the next best performing sow unit in the Tosh operation. Pigs born alive stood at 12.9/litter compared to 11.9/litter. The Martin unit recorded 10.7 pigs weaned/litter, a half pig better than the next best unit. Non-productive sow days were 41.48, nearly six days higher than the unit used for comparison.

Coates, site manager Jennifer Moore and the Toshes are remarkably open about the challenges at the Martin site. “There was no silver bullet,” says Coates, explaining that performance improvements were the result of many small management changes. He offers half a dozen key lessons learned:

  1. Address foot and leg problems.

    Foot and leg problems were prevalent from the start. “You name it, if it could happen to feet and legs, we had it,” Coates says. “We had long toenails, broken dew claws, broken legs and cracked hooves that were infected.”

    Autopsies confirmed the feet and leg problems were taking their toll. “Every sow had the exact same thing wrong. It was nothing internal. It was all chronic infection through the feet, legs, knees and joints,” he says.

    The broom-finished slats were abrasive to the sows' footpads, which caused sows to shift their weight backwards to alleviate pain. This tendency allowed toenails to grow longer.

    Since then, the cement slats have smoothed out somewhat, but slat quality is something to pay attention to, Coates emphasizes.

    To combat fungal infections, which can contribute to softening of hooves, gilts and sows now walk through copper sulfate footbaths as they enter the isolation unit and when they are moved to gestation pens. The footbaths, purchased through a dairy supply catalog, look like giant stamp pads.

    “We select for feet and leg structure and give some attention toward aggressiveness. I know aggressiveness is hard to select and breed for, but (we want) animals that are not as aggressive (in this system),” Jimmy Tosh says.

  2. Take steps to curb fighting.

    Coates says many of the foot and leg problems stemmed from injuries during scuffles and scrapes when gilts and sows didn't get along.

    Early on, two problems were identified. Gilts were over-conditioned, while some sows were very thin at weaning. The thin sows invariably got bullied.

    Adjusting the ad lib feeders in the farm's 21 farrowing rooms and switching from a pelleted diet to a mashed diet helped improve post-lactation sow condition. Better condition translates to less fighting, Coates says.

    “There is a lot of fighting involved in this system,” Coates admits. To prevent a steady stream of skirmishes, gestation groups are held static. No new females are added to pens to replace fallouts.

    The farm upped its pen stocking density after a visit from veterinarian Joe Connor, Carthage (IL) Vet Clinic, in the fall of 2006. Connor suggested increasing sows per pen from 60 to 65 to limit extra space and keep the most aggressive gilts and sows from bowling over the others.

    “I thought it was crazy at first, but it worked to slow down some animals,” Coates says. Extra gates will also be added to create smaller, protective alcoves within the pens.

  3. Training gilts is a priority.

    Gilts enter the multiplier unit every eight weeks from the farm's 300-head nucleus herd, also housed at the Martin site. Gilts spend six weeks in an isolation unit (not equipped with ESF) before being moved to training pens with ESF when they are 30 weeks old. Ideally, the gilts are trained for a minimum of two weeks prior to breeding.

    Gilts and sows are bred in stalls, where they remain for 48 to 72 hours after insemination, before being grouped and moved into a gestation pen.

    During training, customized gates divide the training pens in half with the feeding station serving as a one-way route between the two halves.

    “Before employees go home in the evening, they move all the animals to the side with the entrance to the feeding station,” Coates says. The next morning, they know which gilts have used the feeder.

    Reluctant gilts are coaxed into the feeding station by feed sprinkled inside the station and an open side door. The process is repeated as needed. “Employees have to be able to multi-task because training is ongoing throughout the day,” Moore says.

    One to two percent of gilts are culled because they never learn how to use the ESF system.

  4. Deal with equipment problems immediately.

    Equipment downtime causes particular problems because it takes at least 20 hours/day to feed all of the sows with the ESF system.

    “The sows have to be fed all day, every day, because this is on-demand feeding,” Coates says. Sometimes, that means extra hours for site manager Moore to work out software problems.

    “She understands that if the system isn't working and sows aren't getting fed, it is not only (welfare) unfriendly to the animals, but you are going to have reproductive problems and lose performance,” Coates says.

    The farm keeps extra hardware, such as air or water lines and even plug-and-play electronic components, on-site. “It's not that they (Osborne) can't get us parts overnight, but if it breaks, we need it now,” he says.

    Since Tosh Farms rely heavily on alternative feed ingredients, Moore and her crew also must calibrate the feed system often to ensure feed is delivered accurately.

    Coates says animals in the ESF unit use less feed than Tosh facilities with gestation stalls. “We have more accurate feed delivery here so we are using less feed to maintain much better condition,” he says.

  5. Large pens don't work for fallouts.

    Large, 16×21-ft. recovery pens were originally designed to hold 15 fallout sows, but Coates and Moore have discovered that large pens aren't conducive to healing injuries.

    Whenever an animal is added to the pen, the social environment is upset, causing more fighting and new injuries. Plans are to divide the recovery pens to hold only four or five gilts or sows each.

  6. Acceptance is key to success.

    Jamey Tosh says the early problems at the Martin facility partly stemmed from an internal “it won't work” attitude toward the group pens and ESF system.

    “People thought it wouldn't work, so they weren't getting in there and making it work,” he explains. “Having the right mindset is key.”

    “People have to want to focus on this system to make it work,” Coates agrees. And, he is quick to applaud Moore and her team for their commitment to addressing problems early.

    “Any problem is bigger here than at a stall (gestation) farm,” Coates says. “Things get blown up and multiplied.”

    Jimmy Tosh is convinced that a pen gestation system can be managed to match performance results in a stall system, providing the managers are up to the challenge.

    “Day-to-day care of the animals is virtually the same with the exception of walking the pens. Locating animals that need treatment might require a higher level of husbandry,” he says. “It takes a different level of management — more attention to detail because of the technical aspects of the system.”

    Tosh also feels the facilities offer a better work environment. “There is better air circulation and less noise, and it's just a much more pleasant work environment,” he says.

    Future plans at Tosh Farms include expanding two recently acquired, 550-sow units into two, 2,500-sow, large pen units with ESF.

    When asked about the expansion, Jimmy Tosh is cautiously hopeful. “No doubt the next one will go a whole lot smoother because we have learned what to do and what not to do. We are still learning,” he says.

USDA Unveils New Vision For Livestock ID Plan

The new business plan provides a species-specific approach for each livestock group.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a new business plan for its National Animal Identification System (NAIS) that focuses on issues facing each species and identifies strategies to carry out NAIS implementation. Strategies include improvement in data compatibility and technology, and cooperation with livestock and breed associations and with state governments.

The new business plan will require those who participate in USDA's disease management and surveillance programs to register their premises and obtain a premises identification number (PIN). Registration data will include the physical location of a farm, a contact telephone number and other public information, which will not be stored in USDA's database.

The USDA plan provides for a species-specific approach to fit the different production and marketing requirements of each livestock group.

The plan sets the following deadlines for premises registration:

  • March 2008 for 100% of commercial poultry houses;

  • March 2009 for 100% of swine premises to be registered; and

  • December 2009 for just 70% of U.S. cattle to be on registered premises.

National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President Jill Appell of Altona, IL, says, “NPPC believes USDA's new business plan will significantly improve implementation of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). NAIS is critical to protecting our national swine herd and, thus, our domestic and international markets.”

NPPC and the National Pork Board formed a Swine Identification Implementation Task Force in 2005 to enhance the swine ID system.

Mandatory Effort Supported

Fear of losing export markets is one reason Appell says her group continues to support a mandatory national animal ID system.

The pork industry completed it's national pseudorabies (PRV) eradication program involving a collaboration of government and industry that was mandatory from the start, she points out.

“The PRV program was not only mandatory, it worked, so we probably don't have the same reluctance as some other species may have to a mandatory program,” Appell says.

Since 1988, the swine industry has been using a mandatory identification and traceback system requiring swine to be individually identified to ownership before entering consumer channels.

During the PRV eradication program, this traceback and identification (ID) system was paired with state-assigned PINs to provide the infrastructure necessary to eradicate the disease.

Today, under USDA's NAIS, enhancements can be made to the whole program through implementation of the Swine ID Plan using the nationally standardized PIN for site identification, says Patrick Webb, DVM, director of Swine Health Programs at the National Pork Board.

“It's all about enhancing our animal health infrastructure to benefit the swine industry,” he explains. “Having a standardized means to identify swine premises across states provides the industry with an opportunity to improve disease surveillance programming, disease traceback and emergency response capabilities,” he explains.

Enhancing Surveillance

At an industry level, PINs can be used to improve surveillance programming and make the ID program more cost effective. “We can actually improve how we spend our surveillance dollars because we can begin to better target surveillance to populations of pigs based on their risk of exposure to the disease the industry is trying to detect.

“Today, we know how many sows are marketed every year, but we really can't target surveillance at specific plants because we don't have a good idea of exactly where they came from. Sows from a region can be sorted off to a lot of different plants in multiple states,” Webb points out.

Feral Pig Issue

Improving surveillance will be helpful for future reference, especially now that the United States has five million feral swine populating 33 states from the Gulf of Mexico to as far north as Wisconsin, west to California and up the East Coast, Webb observes.

Some of those states, such as Iowa, feature a large domestic swine population that is potentially at risk from feral swine. “They are the animals that could potentially bring back swine brucellosis or pseudorabies to our commercial segment because feral swine still have those diseases and our domestic swine don't,” he says.

USDA inspectors are conducting market swine surveillance in packing plants today. But once the new swine ID system is fully implemented, sampling surveillance can be increased to test more animals that are coming from these high-risk areas where there are feral swine, Webb notes.

“You can target certain plants to increase surveillance, tailoring it for location and risk, allowing us to do better risk assessments, and having more scientifically valid surveillance data. In this way, we can show trading partners that we really are looking for these diseases, and that we have traceability systems in place. We can say that we are actually doing the surveillance at a level necessary to assure them that we are still free of these diseases, and that we can detect them early,” Webb stresses.

Bolstering Biosecurity

Developing tools to help producers manage biological risks can allow the industry to move forward on standardizing its biosecurity practices, he notes. Adding this component to premises ID and disease surveillance programming can develop the necessary infrastructure to help maintain business continuity in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak, according to Webb.

The Pork Board is working with a university to develop a tool for producers and their veterinarians to assess and increase the farm's level of security.

All of these efforts are intended to better protect the swine industry's ability to do business in the event of a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak, for example.

“Right now we don't have the animal health infrastructure to say that if there were an outbreak of FMD in cattle only, that it wouldn't affect swine (for trading purposes),” Webb clarifies.

Biosecurity is not size-specific for disease control. It's needed in all types and sizes of operations. Upgrading actual biosecurity practices consists of simple steps, he says.

For producers raising hogs in outside lots, trying to keep out feral pigs, double fencing is advised. Webb also suggests keeping all feed locked up and cleaning up any feed spills.

If producers suspect wild boars have been visiting their herds, they should work with state animal health authorities to conduct surveillance “to make absolutely sure they haven't brought swine brucellosis or PRV back into those outdoor pigs,” he says.

Swine ID Participation

Webb reports the swine industry is united in favor of premises ID registration, but with about 66% of swine farms signed up (44,312 out of an estimated total of 67,280), obviously the job is not yet done.

“It becomes an issue of just getting in front of producers, with the right information, and getting them to register in their state,” he says.

Webb has three regional ID coordinators working with every state's ID coordinators and state pork producer associations to get educational materials in the hands of pork producers.

“These coordinators will be out in full force at this winter's state pork congresses, and I encourage pork producers to visit with them about premises registration and the swine ID plan,” Webb adds.

To learn more about swine ID and premises registration, go to the National Pork Board's Web site: www.pork.org/swineidplan.com.

Animal ID Funding Trimmed

Funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) new business plan for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) received a jolt as Congress shaved more than two-thirds off the Bush administration's request for NAIS in fiscal year 2008.

In the omnibus budget package passed by Congress in late December, lawmakers approved just $9.75 million for NAIS, less than a third of the more than $33.2 million requested by USDA.

It's now up to Congress and the Bush administration to try and resolve the budget differences and provide more funding to move animal ID forward in fiscal year 2008.

Premises Registrations Grew in 2007

The U.S. Department of Agricul-ture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reports 429,600 premises registered in the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

Registration increased in 2007. And, in December, Nebraska became the 10th state to register at least 50% of its total estimated production agricultural premises under this system.

“Premises registration is absolutely necessary to rapidly and reliably trace and eradicate animal disease,” emphasizes Bruce Knight, undersecretary of USDA's marketing and regulatory programs. “As the number of registered premises continues to grow, it emphasizes the growing support for animal identification. I applaud these producers for making a choice that is crucial to the health and economic well-being of commercial livestock and poultry industries in the United States,” he says.

According to Nebraska officials, increased registrations were due to heavy traffic on its “Locate in 48” Web site. “Locate in 48” publicizes the main goal of NAIS, which is to retrieve trace back data within a 48-hour window to contain the spread of animal disease. Other factors contributing to Nebraska's increase in registration include the ability to register by phone and direct mail outreach.

Other states topping the 50% registration mark last year included Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wisconsin. West Virginia was approaching the 50% mark, having registered 49.8% of its estimated 17,670 premises.

Three other states, Delaware, Iowa and Massachusetts, have reached the 40% mark, with double-digit gains in a number of states. Iowa, for example, started 2007 with just over 11,000 premises registered, and ended the year with over 20,000. Texas registered more than 6,400 new premises last year.

NAIS is a cooperative effort amongst states, tribes and industry partners to respond quickly and effectively to animal disease events, according to USDA. The three program components consist of premises registration, animal identification and tracing. Premises registration establishes a nationwide communications network to aid livestock owners and animal health officials in the event of an animal disease outbreak.

There are about 1.4 million production premises in the United States. To contact a state partner or learn more about NAIS, go to www.usda.gov/nais.

National Pork Board CEO Resigns

The chief executive officer (CEO) of the National Pork Board since 2001, Steve Murphy, has turned in his resignation.

The 15-member Pork Board accepted the resignation with the understanding that Murphy will stay on the job until a successor can be found.

“Steve, in effect, is the only CEO the National Pork Board has had,” explains Lynn Harrison, Pork Board president and a pork producer from Elk Mound, WI. “From the board’s creation in 1986 until 2001, when a court-approved settlement ended the National Pork Producers Council’s role as general contractor for the Pork Checkoff programs overseen by the National Pork Board, the board had only two employees.

“Over the last six years, Steve has built an organization that is the envy of agricultural commodity and other trade organizations,” says Harrison. “We admire the work he has done and thank him for helping us become a board that is now fully prepared to take charge of its destiny. He has melded pork producer leadership with a talented and dedicated staff to create an organization that is issues-driven and results oriented.”

Harrison went on to say that Murphy guided volunteer board members “to think more about strategic vision – to see beyond today’s challenges to tomorrow’s opportunities.

“That ability will be important as we search for a successor, and as we continue to make decisions to improve profit opportunities for all U.S. pork producers. We have some difficult decisions ahead, including how we structure ourselves and our producer committees to continue our success,” he explains.

Murphy’s expertise both in agricultural sales and marketing and in creating successful information technology businesses led to his hiring in 2001. “The board knew it was creating a new organization and it wanted someone with a different skill set than you typically find in the pork industry,” notes Harrison. “It needed someone who knew how to start a business, and to set goals and to inspire people to move forward. Steve has excelled at all of those.”

“It takes a lot of committed people to share a vision, to challenge conventional wisdom, to look beyond today’s problems to try new things. I think we, as a team and as an industry, have been very successful,” Murphy says.

The Pork Board CEO says it has also taken a lot of energy to do the job and he is ready to hand over the reins to someone else. “I am happy to stay on until the board can do that assessment, but it’s time for new leadership.”

Harrison lists a few National Pork Board successes under Murphy’s leadership:

  • Getting the organization to embrace anticipatory issues management;
  • Protecting the future of one of the most successful brands in the country: Pork. The Other White Meat;
  • Reconnecting producers by sharing contributions and visions to accomplish goals they could not achieve alone; and
  • Developing a staff that is accountable to both producers and to sound business principles.

Tough Year - But How Bad Will It Get?

There has been a lot of doomsday talk about the pork industry this week. I certainly can't argue against the idea that 2008 will be a very tough year for U.S. pork producers and, as I have pointed out before, even worse for Canadian producers. But, there are some reasons to be careful before you buy into "the sky is falling" predictions.

First, the bad news. Slaughter last week was 2.1% larger than was predicted by the December Hogs and Pigs Report (see Figure 1). The good news, though, is that percentage difference is the smallest since Sept. 29, with the exception of Christmas week. Daily estimates for this week through Thursday were up 5.6% from 2007. That number is actually smaller than the 6.1% increase expected, based on the December report. Although this is written before week's end, getting near the report-implied slaughter level is encouraging.

Now, for worse news. There doesn't appear to be much respite in the grain markets. Corn closed a bit lower Thursday, but most of the contracts traded at contract life highs sometime during trading on Wednesday. Nearby soybean meal contracts also closed lower, but those closes came off of contract life highs on Tuesday and the deferred meal contracts hit contract life highs on Thursday. Wheat, after a mini-rally last week, has fallen again, but don't expect lower wheat to exert any direct pressure on corn. Corn price is simply too high for wheat to be viewed as a competitor in the feed market. And, the fact remains, wheat and corn are generally grown in different places in the world so the battle for acres between the two crops is limited. The southern Corn Belt of the U.S. may be the most notable place where they are, in fact, competitors for acres. But that battle has already been fought since winter wheat was planted last fall.

These increases in cash and futures prices for corn and soybeans have now driven my forecast feed price index to record highs (see Figure 2). The increase in feed costs since the summer of 2006 have added over $30 to the cost of raising a pig. Current prices and costs are not fully in the market yet, since the pigs being sold today ate some lower-priced feed a few months ago.

Limited Options
While hog prices will not be good this year, the cost situation is a far bigger threat to producer profits. At this point, there is not much that can be done. USDA lowered its projected 2008 carryout corn stocks by 359 million bushels in this morning's World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report. That reduction was the result of a reduction in the 2007 average corn yield (from 153 bu./acre to 151.1 bu./acre -- still the second highest ever) and a 300-million bushel increase in forecast feed and residual usage. The report also increased its estimate of season-average farm price to $3.70-$4.30, adding 35 cents on both ends. That estimate, though, is still lower than the farm price implied by current futures values.

USDA decreased projected carryout stocks of soybeans by 10 million bushels. The reduction was caused by a 9-million bushel decrease in 2007 production due to a 0.1 bu./acre reduction in yield. Projected ending stocks of 175 million bushels are the third lowest on record and drive the projected ratio of year-end stocks of total usage to a squeaky tight 5.9%. The result is another big change for the soybean price forecast -- raised 65 cents/bu. on both ends of the range to $9.90-$10.90. Those numbers have both increased by $1.40/bu. over the past two months. Estimated meal prices were increased $40/ton to $305-$335. Those numbers are $70/ton higher than two months ago.

The important factor for these forecasts is that they are still all below current futures prices. Yes, USDA is sort of chasing these markets and the USDA forecasts are for farm-level prices for the grains, so basis levels are a key factor. But they also underscore the risk premiums that are in these futures markets.

I won't argue that the risk premiums should not be there or, for that matter, that they are too large. There is substantial risk in these markets, but one must remember that a few developments can take the risk premium out quickly. Look at the feed cost index graph for 2004, and even last summer, when it went from $155/ton on June 15 to $121/ton on July 27. Could that happen again? Absolutely. It will not take the feed cost index to $100, but it could easily take it back to $140 or $150. That would be a very nice development.

Price Trend Not Unusual
Soft cash hog prices have also increased the level of hand wringing in that market, but we must remember our history. It is not at all unusual for cash hog prices to remain weak into January. Hog runs are still large and the holiday feasts are over. That cash weakness drags down the entire futures complex.

Historical data from the Moore Research Reports (available free from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) at www.cme.com/trading/prd/ag/moore.html) indicate that December and January are about the worst time to be selling summer hog futures. The seasonal charts for June and July Lean Hogs are shown in Figure 3. Both show a strong historical pattern of prices increasing from early January through early May -- and CME Lean Hog futures prices were up sharply in Wednesday's trading. They rose again on Thursday. Whether this marks a reversal of those price trends remains to be seen, but Wednesday was the most positive day we have seen for quite some time and it's the first encouraging news for hog prices in some time.




Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.
e-mail: [email protected]

Hog Market Could Be Worse than 1998

Purdue University Extension Marketing Specialist Chris Hurt says 2008 may be the worst financial year for pork producers since the infamous 1998.

“All you have to say to a pork producer is ‘1998’ and the most jovial fellow will turn red with rage, or drop his shoulders in a feeling of helplessness. Unfortunately, those emotions may be relived as 2008 may replace 1998 as the worst financial year for pork producers in modern history,” he predicts.

“The number one culprit is high feed costs and the second is too many hogs. The current unrelenting climb of corn and soybean meal prices may drive 2008 costs to the highest annual level ever. In addition, there continues to be more slaughter hogs than accounted for in USDA inventory reports, with no signs of moderation,” says Hurt.

Slaughter forecasts at the start of the fourth quarter called for 4.5% more hogs, but actual slaughter numbers almost doubled to 9%, Hurt explains. The source of the extra hogs remains a mystery.

“USDA increased last spring’s farrowings somewhat, but there were still nearly 3% unexplained slaughter hogs,” he says. “The great worry is that there may still be more hogs than USDA has counted in the December update.

“The December USDA inventory count indicated that slaughter would rise by about 4% for the first five months of the year. If USDA has undercounted, slaughter could be 6-7% higher. USDA indicated that the breeding herd was up by just 1% and that winter farrowings would rise by 2% and spring farrowings by 1%,” says Hurt.

With annual production rising about 3%, that’s too much pork to sell at profitable prices, he reasons.

Hurt forecasts live hog prices will average $46.30 in 2008, down from $47.10 in 2007, and the lowest in five years. Prices are expected to average in the very low $40s in the first quarter, rise to the high $40s for the second and third quarters, then finish the year in the mid-$40s averages.

Corn and soybean meal futures prices appear headed for record highs this year, resulting in record high annual costs for pork producers.

“While live hog prices are expected to average $46.30 for the year, costs of production are estimated at $55.60, based on futures for corn and soybean meal on Jan. 4, 2008 and adjusted to cash purchase levels,” says Hurt. “These estimates suggest a loss of about $9.30/cwt., or nearly $25/head on average for the year.”

That figure would exceed estimated losses in 1998 of $6.78/cwt. live weight.

The previous record high for cost of production was an estimated $48.93 in 1996.

Obviously, getting through 2008 won’t be easy, according to Hurt.

“Producers may want to base their strategies on a ‘survival mode’ for 2008,” he suggests. “If they can get through 2008, hog prices will likely recover in the spring or summer of 2009.”

Hurt urges the pork industry to move quickly to stimulate demand. “Retail pork prices have continued to move upward. Retailers need to be encouraged to lower pork prices by being reassured that wholesale pork prices will remain low in coming months. Foreign buyers need to be encouraged to increase purchases at this time of low-priced wholesale cuts. A special effort needs to move forward with China to resolve issues that may be constraining their purchases.”

To shave production costs, producers need to take several steps:

  • Cut market weights to optimum levels.
  • Reexamine feed efficiency, starting with feeder adjustment.
  • Cull inefficient animals; and
  • Reduce the breeding herd by about 3-5%.

Hurt says the process of trimming the breeding herd has likely started and will continue through the first half of the year.

“They say it is always darkest before the dawn, but the dawn will not be in sight until pork producers reduce production to better align with this new high-cost era,” Hurt emphasizes.

Production Adjustments Will Come

The rumblings of the past couple of weeks have centered on the question: "How can these hog producers be expanding so much if conditions are as bad as they say?" Or, more pointedly: "Why are those big guys still growing? Are they just trying to push out the little guys?"

There are very good answers to the first question, but probably no answer that will satisfy those posing the second. Regardless, here is my take on what is happening and what might happen as we go through 2008.

First and foremost: "It's the lags!" Sorry, I've been watching way too much football and DLP commercials for those tiny mirrors. Economics is full of time lags, regardless of the assumptions of perfect competition theory. It just takes time for people to make and execute decisions. While that is happening, the changes in economic variables may not make sense.

In fact, history tells us that U.S. producers must see nearly a year of actual losses before the breeding herd begins to decline. Does today's "professional" industry lend itself to quicker decisionmaking and shorter lags or does today's high-investment, fixed-facility industry lend itself to limited decisionmaking opportunities and longer lags? We are about to find out. My guess is that the latter will win out simply because high-tech, high-investment farms represent the vast majority of U.S. output.

So, there should be no surprise that the breeding herd is up while producers are losing money, since the losses really just commenced in October. There is a substantial amount of inertia in this business and it will take awhile to complete the projects already under construction. They will be completed -- unless things get much worse than they are at present.

Second, U.S. producers haven't lost much money -- yet. Cash corn was near $3/bu. in October. Cash soybean meal was near $200/ton in August. Further, producers forward contracted or hedged perhaps more hogs and more feed ingredients than ever before. Those profitable positions mean that not much money has been lost yet, so why would anyone think that a contraction would be underway?

Third, and I really hate to say this, but U.S. producers will very likely wait to see what happens in Canada. The economic situation there is much worse and has been so for much longer. Something has to give and it is very logical that U.S. producers will stall any cutbacks to see if the reduction of Canada's herd will be enough to turn things around.

For that to happen, the Canadian reductions will have to be large. A 4% reduction in Canada would offset the roughly 1% growth of the U.S. herd over the past few quarters. If we need to pull slaughter back from +10% (December's increase) to just +5%, and productivity growth levels off, that would imply a 20% reduction in Canada -- if the Canadians do all of the cutting. While shocking, I have actually heard that number mentioned by some Canadian observers.

Finally, while feed ingredient futures continue to climb, Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Lean Hogs futures were still quite encouraging until the past few weeks. Every contract through July has hit contract-life lows since the USDA report was released and the average price for all 2008 contracts now stands below $68 -- lower than the projected breakeven price of $70 mentioned by Iowa State agricultural economist John Lawrence during last week's National Pork Board roundtable discussion of the Hogs & Pigs Report.

The industry will adjust, but it will take time. The adjustment will begin in Canada, but I doubt the U.S. industry will go unscathed. The prospect of a difficult 2008 is very, very real.

NOTE: The Canadian data in this week's Prices and Production tables are for the week of Dec. 15. Those are the most recent available from Statistics Canada.




Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.
e-mail: [email protected]

Pork Checkoff Surveys Activist Groups’ Influence on Children

Activist groups target children with educational materials claiming that people have no right to harvest animals for food.

But are these messages getting through to kids?

This question prompted the Pork Checkoff’s 2007 research project to determine whether these messages are reaching children and what impact they are having.

“Pork producers are very passionate about this issue, and they wanted to find out how much these messages are influencing kids,” says Traci Rodemeyer, manager of pork information for the National Pork Board.

The Pork Checkoff conducted four focus groups in Des Moines, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Raleigh, NC, comprised of 10 children in each group, ages 9 to 14.

An online survey was also conducted of 350 children in this age bracket. The youth were asked about their familiarity with Web sites like petakids.com and The Meatrix (one of the Internet’s most popular animated advocacy films), plus their views on vegetarianism and animal care.

“The good news is that only a small percentage of the students were aware of the activist groups’ messages,” explains Rodemeyer. “Unfortunately, when children are exposed to the groups’ messages, they have the power to change students’ perceptions on the spot. Going forward, we’ll be monitoring these groups’ activities closely.”

More than half of all youth surveyed indicated they had heard of animal rights organizations. One-fourth said the messages presented by the organizations had impacted their meat-eating habits.

Online Messages
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had a low awareness level among the youth, but higher impact on their meat-eating habits. Only one-third of all youth surveyed indicated they have heard of or visited the PETA Web site. But one-third of those who are aware of PETA reported viewing a video concerning animal care or meat consumption. Some 53% indicated the Web site/video had affected their meat-eating habits.

“Our research showed that today’s youth are very concerned about animal care,” adds Rodemeyer.

Activist groups are moving beyond traditional in-school initiatives to more online outlets.

The YouTube Web site, for example, has high awareness among youth and 25% of the students surveyed who were aware of the site said they had viewed a video on animal care or meat consumption. One-third of those who watched the videos indicated the Web site/video had impacted their meat-eating habits, says Rodemeyer.

The Meatrix Revisited
The online film The Meatrix, released in 2003, scored the lowest in awareness among kids, but recorded the highest impact on meat-eating habits. Spoofing Hollywood’s “Matrix” triology, The Meatrix stars a mysterious, trenchcoat-wearing bull, Moopheus. The bull offers young pig, Leo, a red tablet, which opens his eyes to the “real world” of agribusiness giants eradicating family farms and promoting intensive production methods. At the end of the movie, viewers are directed to an action page where they are encouraged to support sustainable food production.

Just 7% of all youth surveyed indicated having heard of or visiting the Meatrix Web site, but more than three-quarters who are aware of The Meatrix have seen a video concerning animal care or meat consumption. Of that group, nearly two-thirds said the Web site/video had affected their meat-eating habits.

“We’re keeping a close eye on these activist groups and their messages, and we’re prepared to take action if they escalate their efforts to target children,” says Rodemeyer.