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Articles from 2002 In October

NPPC Asks for Stay of Order Halting Checkoff

NPPC Asks for Stay of Order Halting Checkoff By Joe Vansickle, Senior Editor

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has requested that the Justice Department seek a stay of a Michigan court’s Oct. 25 ruling to halt collection of the pork checkoff.

In a teleconference call with the media, NPPC attorney Ed Mansfield related, "We are pursuing our request that they (Justice Department) seek a stay and that decision-making process is in progress."

The decision will be made, probably in a few days, by the Solicitor General’s office of the Department of Justice, he explains. The Solicitor General sought and received a similar stay of last summer’s ruling by a South Dakota judge that the beef checkoff program was unconstitutional. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals based in St. Louis, MO granted the stay. That case is currently on appeal.

NPPC CEO Neil Dierks told listeners that in this case the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati, OH would hear the request for a stay.

The request follows an Oct. 25 verdict by Judge Richard Enslen of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in which he ruled the mandatory Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, launched in 1985, was unconstitutional.

The federal judge called for a halt in the collection of checkoff funds effective Nov. 25.

NPPC President Dave Roper calls the court’s decision into question on three counts:

  1. The court did not recognize the basic government freedom of speech argument guaranteed by the First Amendment. "This is in light of the fact that Congress established the program, and USDA oversees and administers the checkoff program and its activities," he points out.
  2. There appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding by the court of what the checkoff does, the whole concept of pork promotion and how it benefits the pork industry in relationship to its competitors. "The Pork. The Other White Meat campaign has been recognized as one of the most prominent advertising campaigns of all times. It has been very successful, is very generic and basically helps promote pork against other proteins that we compete with in the marketplace," says Roper.
  3. It is unfortunate that four individuals were able to disrupt a program "which has benefited literally thousands of pork producers," attests Roper, a Kimberly, ID, producer. "Even Judge Enslen recognized the positive impact of the program in his ruling when he stated, ‘the pork (checkoff) program has a very positive effect on pork producers.’"

NPPC attorney Mansfield also notes the Michigan judge appeared to miss the mark in his ruling. "There appears to be a fundamental mistake on the part of the judge in his interpretation of what the checkoff does. The court appears to make the statement that branded advertising is used to somehow support the competitors of the individuals who were behind this challenge (Campaign for Family Farms based in White Bear Lake, MN). That’s really not correct, and the evidence will show that, in fact, what is so-called branded advertising is really a relatively small part of the checkoff." Mansfield says about $800,000 annually goes to branded advertising out of an estimated $50 million annual pork checkoff budget.

Rather than hurting pork producers represented by the activists, the pork checkoff program actually benefits them, says Mansfield. "The Texas A&M study, which the judge acknowledged and described in his ruling, concludes that it (checkoff) benefits producers to the tune of approximately $4.79 for each dollar of checkoff funds invested."

NPPC President Roper called the Michigan court’s ruling "disappointing that this has happened this way." But, he adds: "There is a strong case in support of the constitutionality of the pork checkoff program, and we are hopeful that a higher court will rule to overturn the District Court’s decision."

Ultimately, it’s conceivable that most of the commodity checkoff programs currently being challenged may be decided by the Supreme Court, comments Mansfield.

"I think that there is a change in the landscape out here, and I think ultimately there’s going to have to be a decision either by the Supreme Court or by some new direction given by Congress," he observes.

Michigan Judge Orders Halt to Pork Checkoff

A U.S. District Court judge in Michigan has ruled the mandatory pork checkoff program is unconstitutional, and has called for a halt in collection of funds effective Nov. 25.

"We strongly support the pork checkoff program as enacted by Congress and disagree with this ruling," says NPPC President Dave Roper. "We will ask the government to immediately request a stay of the District Court’s ruling,"

The Kimberly, ID, pork producer declares: "The ruling is an attempt to take away the ability of pork producers to invest in our futures and to obtain the necessary research that is critical to sustaining the industry and providing consumers with safe, nutritious and high quality food products. There is a strong case in support of the constitutionality of the pork checkoff program and we are hopeful that a higher court will rule to overturn the District Court’s decision."

The challenge to the constitutionality of the pork checkoff was raised by the Campaign for Family Farms, a White Bear Lake, MN-based group.

Nutrition Audits Target Finishing Performance

When cost or performance in the nursery or finisher misses targets, a systematic audit can help identify the reasons why. The nutrition audit consists of a preliminary analysis, an on-site visit and an action plan.

Preliminary Analysis

We begin with collecting background data for review before visiting the production system and feedmill (Table 1). This data is used for a preliminary analysis (Table 2) and to guide more detailed exploration during the on-site visit. Areas examined include diet formulation and ingredient cost, feed processing, on-farm feed management and production parameters.

Performance Review

Nutrition areas directly linked to cost and profitability — average daily gain (ADG), average daily feed intake (ADFI), feed efficiency and feed cost per pound of gain — should receive the most focus. Mortality rate, initial weights and final weights also should be reviewed. If data is available in electronic format, trend lines and long-term performance levels can be assessed.

Performance values should be adjusted for known causes of variation. This permits more accurate comparisons for different producers.

For example, grow-finish feed efficiency is adjusted for “in” weight (entry wt.) and “out” weight (market wt.), dietary energy level and diet form using baseline targets (Table 3). These values should be used as upper limits for the feed efficiency targets. If values are not acceptable after adjustment, review other factors such as diet formulation, feeder adjustment or feed particle size.

The ADG values must be viewed with an understanding of the available space in the system. A big question is whether improved ADG would yield more profit. In essence, are pigs achieving optimal market weight for the available finishing space? Carcass grade and yield sheets from packers help in this assessment.

However, interpret market weights with caution. Some producers sell pigs light despite having the finishing capacity to feed to heavier weights.

The question of available space may change seasonally and thus drive diet formulations to be different. For example, because ADG is reduced in summer, the value of higher energy diets or technologies such as Paylean to drive ADG increases in summer.

Diet Review

The next step in the preliminary analysis is to review diet formulation and ingredient prices simultaneously, to ensure they mesh. This review must include a visit to the production system to look for bottlenecks and determine whether to change diets to meet production, environmental or personal goals, rather than simply meeting the cost of production goals.

The reasons to formulate diets for goals other than minimum cost of production include:

  • Lack of quality facilities or management may require more complex nursery diets;

  • Use of high-energy diets to boost ADG and net profit;

  • Altering the last finisher diet to minimize impact on pork fat quality; and

  • Formulating diets to minimize phosphorus and nitrogen output for environmental reasons, even though cost may be increased.

While review of all essential nutrients is important, most critical are dietary energy, amino acids and phosphorus. All diets also are reviewed for the level of vitamins and minerals and appropriate feed additives.

Nursery Diets

Weaning age and number of dietary phases are critical. The quantity of plasma, lactose, other specialty ingredients and soybean meal are key ingredients. With pigs weaned under 21 days of age, a relatively high plasma level (4 to 7%) in the diet immediately after weaning will boost feed intake. The level must be reduced rapidly due to the high cost.

The goal with soybean meal is the opposite. Feed low levels in the first diet after weaning and increase rapidly with each new diet phase.

Other specialty protein sources such as fish meal and blood meal are used in the diet right after weaning to enhance feed intake. Because lactose is the preferred carbohydrate source immediately after weaning, relatively high levels should be included in the diet. The lactose level should be reduced rapidly because it is expensive and its benefit declines rapidly after weaning.

The overall goal in the nursery is to have pigs eating a grain-soybean meal diet by the time they reach 25 lb.

Grow-Finish Diets

Energy and amino acid levels are the main factors to review in grow-finish diets. Cost, availability and impact on feed handling dictate use of different energy sources (grain, fat or byproducts). Because feed intake is usually limited in commercial production, diets for most modern genetics must be formulated on a lysine:energy ratio.

We review the lysine-to-energy ratios for each diet and compare them to projected requirements. The difficulty with grow-finish diets is determining those requirements. If we have lean deposition curves based on ultrasound measurements or from field experiments, we use that information to review the lysine-to-energy ratios.

If this data is not available, we use fat-free lean index (FFLI) from the kill sheets to estimate the lysine requirements (Kansas State University Swine Nutrition Guide). Other amino acid levels in the diets are compared as a ratio to lysine to ensure they are not first limiting before lysine.

In recent years, the level of nutrients leaving the production system, mainly phosphorus and nitrogen, has gained importance. Salt and trace minerals such as zinc and copper also can be a concern.

To limit nutrient excretion, ensure that diets are properly formulated by use of split-sex feeding and phase feeding. Review use of synthetic amino acids and phytase. Use of lean, efficient genetics, proper feeder adjustment and correct grain particle size to improve digestibility all help to limit nutrient excretion.

Ingredient Price Review

In reviewing feed ingredients, consider nutrient content, variability, effect on diet palatability, carcass and meat quality, storage, handling, availability, cost and contamination with compounds such as mycotoxins.

Strict control of ingredient costs is essential to controlling feed costs. The ingredients with the greatest opportunity to reduce costs vary with the production system. Feed budgets and diet formulas are used to quantify the use of each ingredient.

A two-dimensional graph illustrates opportunities for cost savings (Figure 1). The percentage of feed cost contributed by ingredients is depicted along the horizontal axis. The opportunity margin is defined as the relative ability to reduce purchase price and is depicted along the vertical axis. The area of each box represents the opportunity for improved profit for each feed component.

As expected, corn and soybean meal comprise the largest percent of feed cost. However, the margin from lowering the corn or soybean meal price is small, at 10¢/bu. of corn or $10/ton of soybean meal.

Still, the large usage of these ingredients means that a small percentage change in price leads to relatively large opportunities for improved profit. Other energy and protein sources can be substituted for corn and soybean meal in this graph, depending on price and manufacturing situations.

Other opportunities include starter diets fed to pigs under 15 lb., vitamin premix and, to a lesser extent, specialty nursery diet ingredients such as whey, fish meal or blood meal where fairly large differences in pricing exist.

Another big area of opportunity is the phosphorus source, where price depends on efficient transportation, purchasing and quantity discounts.

Feed Processing, Delivery Costs

Feed manufacturing costs can have a major impact on feed costs. In one study, there was a range of $11.85/ton between the highest and lowest cost farms. Toll milling charges for feed manufacturing (grind, mix and delivery) often range from $12-to-$18/ton for a non-pelleted diet.

A rule of thumb is every $3 change in feed manufacturing and delivery cost results in a difference in feed cost of about $1.10/pig.

The delivery cost per mile increases linearly as the truck size increases from 6 to 24 tons; however, the delivery cost per ton decreases as truck size increases (Table 4). When reviewing feed budgets and weight breaks, it is important to consider whether changes would allow for greater efficiencies and lower cost of delivery.

For example, could the standard budget be increased or decreased for a diet to more closely match deliveries? Another example would be having the mill automatically switch to the next diet when less than 50% of a delivery quantity is required to fill out the budget.

Delivering full semi-loads instead of 6- or 12-ton loads can reduce feed cost/pig by $0.49 to $1.49/pig using the example in Table 4.

On-Site Visits

The preliminary analysis of the performance data, diets and ingredients guide the strategy for the on-site visit. Three areas to focus on during the visit include: the feedmill, walk-through of facilities, and clarification of goals and identification of problems with owners, managers and front-line employees.

Feedmill Visit

Because feed manufacturing and delivery is such an integral part of the nutrition program, the feedmill visit is a major focus of the nutrition audit. Grain particle size or ability of the mill to handle multiple diets directly impacts pig performance. By lowering costs at the mill, savings can be passed on to the producer.

The primary focus in the mill review is on delivery of high-quality feed to the farm in the most cost-effective manner.

The mill audit includes a review of individual ingredient costs and quality; grinding, weighing and mixing processes; feed delivery from the mill to bins; potential concerns of mill personnel; and areas where the farm and mill can work together to improve efficiency.

Particle size is one item to review. Because grain particle size impacts feed efficiency, ground grain samples need to be routinely tested. For every 100-micron decrease in average particle size, feed efficiency improves by 1.2%, resulting in a 40¢ to 50¢ improvement in feed cost per pig. Reducing particle size improves energy utilization and feed efficiency.

But particle size can also be too fine, especially for diets in meal form. Fine particle size can cause problems with flow ability of the feed and will limit fat additions to the diet. Although most producers understand its importance, particle size is a problem in many feeding programs. Without continual monitoring, particle size is difficult to maintain in the optimum range of 600 to 800 microns. Regular monitoring must be done in the mill.

Farm Visit

The on-farm nutrition audit provides valuable input on the application of the nutrition program. The program can be well conceived, but still fail if not applied correctly on the farm.

In the nursery, we ask two main questions. First, are pigs starting on feed and water promptly after weaning and transitioning smoothly between diets? Second, are feeders adjusted correctly?

Ventilation and sanitation are also reviewed. Also, look for digestive abnormalities such as loose stools or diarrhea.

Feeder adjustment and general pig management are reviewed in the finishing barns. Feed waste from poor feeder adjustment is a problem in most nursery and grow-finish barns. Improvements in feed efficiency from the reduction in feed wastage directly reduce cost per pound of gain and cost per pig.

For example, feed cost is lowered by over $1/pig in the finisher and 40¢/pig in the nursery by reducing feed efficiency by 0.1. Feed efficiency improvements of 0.1 to 0.2 (i.e.: 3.0 to 2.9 or 3.0 to 2.8) have been accomplished frequently in the field by improving feeder adjustments. Improper adjustment is often the result of poor communication to barn personnel. Posting laminated pictures in all grow-finish and nursery buildings has been an effective tool to communicate proper feeder adjustment. The pictures serve as a constant motivational reminder to help reduce feed waste.

We also review the feed handling system in nurseries and finishers. The goal in bin management is to always have high-quality feed available for every pig in the barn. Maintain quality of feed delivered by reducing moisture buildup or bridging of feed in the bins.

Don't run bins empty for extended periods of time, leaving pigs without feed. Consistent availability of feed is vital to reducing ulcer and ileitis problems in grow-finish.

The size of bins and number of pigs served by a feed line are reviewed during the farm visit to ensure that diets are being budgeted and delivered in an efficient manner.

During a one-time walk-through of a barn, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of pig growth and health. Visual monitoring of pigs for normal growth, comfort and health needs to be conducted daily. Nutritional problems are often first spotted by the critical eye of an excellent stockperson who communicates problems to the swine nutritionist or feed manufacturer for resolution.

Before and after the on-farm audit, a meeting should be held with the owner or production system manager to review production goals and learn of nutritional program problems.

Follow-up Steps for Change

Provide a written report within two weeks of the farm visit. Timeliness is important to reporting and documenting all the areas of opportunity as thoroughly as possible. Economic justification for recommended changes should be included. Provide an action or priority list with the report to briefly identify areas to change and those responsible.

Ideally, a conference call or meeting should be scheduled 4-6 weeks after the written report to assess progress.

Six Key Audit Components

Swine nutrition audits should encompass these six areas:

  1. A clear understanding of the goals of the production system;

  2. A review of background information on current performance levels, diets and feed ingredients, processing and delivery prices;

  3. A review of the feed mill capabilities;

  4. A visual assessment of the application of the nutrition program in the production system;

  5. A complete written report summarizing findings of the audit; and

  6. Assessment of progress. Nutrition audits can be enjoyable, educational and rewarding for the production system and the auditor.

Table 1. Required Background Information

___ Copy of all diet formulations
___ List of all ingredient prices
___ Current feed budget with weight breaks
___ Feed processing and delivery costs
___ Minimum of 10 nursery closeouts
___ Minimum of 10 finisher closeouts
___ FFLI (Fat-Free Lean Index) from kill sheets

Table 2. Checklist for Swine Nutrition Audits

Name: _____
Address: _____
City, State, Zip: _____
Phone: _____ Fax: _____

Pig Performance
___ Are performance levels appropriate?
Diet Formulation
___ Nursery (Correct complexity)
___ Correct number of phases
___ Grow-finish (based on FFLI)*
___ Correct number of G-F phases
___ Lactation-Matched to wean wt.
___ Gestation
Ingredient Cost and Quality
___ Grain
___ Soybean meal, other protein sources
___ Phosphorus
___ Added fat (level and economics) Vitamins and trace minerals, etc.
___ Check vitamin premix age (mix date)
___ Cost
___ Levels
Additives, antibiotics, etc.
___ Are they all necessary?
___ Cost
___ Complete starter diets
Feed Processing
___ Ingredient sources and purchasing
___ Grinding (particle size)
___ Weighing (scales checked?)
___ Mixing efficiency tested?
___ Cost of processing
Delivery from Mill
___ Proper budgeting and delivery
___ Cost and efficiency
Feed Usage on Farm
Feed efficiency
___ Genetic capability (FFLI)
___ Feeders (quality of feeders) Feeder adjustment
___ Are they adjusted correctly?
___ Do they know the proper adjustment?
Environmental Impact (P** and N** control)
___ Diets not over-formulated
___ Proper use of synthetic amino acids
___ Low phosphorus techniques
___ Correct particle size (digestibility)

*FFLI=Fat-Free Lean Index;
**P=phosphorus; N=Nitrogen

Table 3. Interference Levels for Feed Efficiency for Grow-Finish Pigs Consuming Corn-Soybean Meal Based Diets
Meal diets Pelleted diets
Entry wt., lb. Market wt., lb. 0% fat 5% fat 0% fat 5% fat
40 240 2.88 2.59 2.71 2.44
40 250 2.94 2.65 2.76 2.49
40 260 3.00 2.70 2.82 2.54
50 240 2.94 2.65 2.76 2.49
50 250 3.00 2.70 2.82 2.54
50 260 3.06 2.75 2.88 2.59
60 240 3.00 2.70 2.82 2.54
60 250 3.06 2.75 2.88 2.59
60 260 3.12 2.81 2.93 2.64

Table 4. Influence of Feed Truck Size on Delivery Costs
Capacity of truck, tons
Delivery costs 6 12 18 24
Cost/mile, $ $ 1.07 $ 1.14 $ 1.18 $ 1.29
Cost/ton/mile, $/ton $ 0.178 $ 0.095 $ 0.066 $ 0.054
Cost for 1,000 head, $a $2,136 $1,140 $792 $648
Cost/pig, $a $ 2.14 $ 1.14 $ 0.79 $ 0.65
aAssumes a delivery 20 miles from the feedmill (40 miles round trip).

Comfort Drives Pig Efficiency

The past 10 years or so have brought significant changes in swine finishing facility design. Leading the way have been fully slotted, curtain-sided barns; tunnel-ventilated barns; double-wide, wean-to-finish units; large group size pens; pigs raised on solid bedded floors; hoop structures and a new generation of control systems.

This new generation of finishing facilities is now becoming middle-aged (from 5 to 15 years old) and it may be time for a checkup.

Producers may also be planning new facilities or remodeling existing ones, and wondering which production system or change performs best.

While every production system is unique, each also provides a set of environmental challenges that need to be addressed to obtain optimal performance.

Environmental Challenges

Providing the proper environment still can be a struggle despite new generation, computerized controllers designed to provide better temperature control. That's because the total ventilation and building system must be properly designed and managed to achieve the desired environmental conditions.

The optimum environment in a finishing system should enhance voluntary feed intake and minimize thermal and other environmental stresses that affect pig and worker health.

Voluntary feed intake is influenced by group size and composition, thermal environment (temperature, air speed and humidity), feeder spaces and space allocations per pig.

All of the diverse finishing production systems and climates challenge planners.

Thermal Environmental Factors

Maintaining temperatures within the pig's comfort zone and proper relative humidity (typically from 50 to 65%) are two primary functions of a ventilation system.

Effective environmental temperature is the temperature actually experienced by the pig.

When a total building system is analyzed, the way a pig loses heat needs to be considered to determine the effective environmental temperature. Pigs lose heat to the environment by conduction, convection and radiation, and by evaporation through their respiratory tracts.

Conduction is the transfer of heat from one surface to another and accounts for 10-15% of total animal heat loss. It can affect growth because of its relationship to animal comfort.

Dry concrete slats over a deep pit could contribute up to a 9°F-temperature deficiency when compared to ambient room temperature. A major advantage of bedded solid floors during cold weather is the effective temperature rise of 7-15°F, depending on the size and weight of the pig.

Convection is the transfer of heat from an object to the air around it. It makes up 35% of total animal heat loss. Convective heat loss is a positive during hot weather, but a potential detriment during cold and mild weather if air velocities are too high. Convective heat loss will create problems in wean-to-finish facilities without proper maintenance.

Table 1. Temperature Adjustments for Floor Level Air Speeds
Air speed Temperature Adjustment
< 25 fpm1 0°F
40 fpm -7°F
100 fpm -13°F
300 fpm -18°F
1Feet per minute

Ventilation Factors

Common terms used in ventilation are cfm, which stands for cubic feet per minute, and fpm, which refers to feet per minute.

For example, a 5,000 cfm fan would exhaust 5,000 cu. ft. of air per minute from the facility. Air velocity is defined by fpm or miles per hour (mph). An air speed of 88 ft. per minute would be equivalent to 1 mph.

During cold weather, air speeds at pig level should be kept to less than 30 fpm for small pigs. For larger pigs, air speed should be less than 40 fpm at floor level.

Floor-level air speed is a function of velocity at the air inlet, opposing air streams, distances to walls from the air inlets and drafts from unplanned openings.

As ventilation rates increase, there is typically an increase in the air speed at pig level. Fan set points should be adjusted far enough apart so animals are not chilled when higher ventilation rates are called for with rising room temperatures. High air speeds have a negative effect on average daily gain for small pigs. Table 1 shows the affect of air speed on effective environmental temperatures.

Radiation is the transfer of heat from an animal to a surrounding surface without direct contact. It normally accounts for 30% of total heat loss. Non-insulated surfaces such as exterior concrete walls and curtains are of concern in the northern climates, especially for small pigs in wean-to-finish facilities.

Evaporative heat loss is an advantage during hot weather. Since pigs don't sweat, they must dissipate heat in warm weather directly through the skin (conduction, convection and radiation) and through increased respiration rate (evaporation). A 300 fpm air speed past a pig (Table 1), typical for a tunnel-ventilated facility, will lower its skin temperature by 18°F. However, when air temperature starts to approach body surface temperature, the convective heat transfer from the skin is greatly reduced. When this occurs, air velocity needs to be supplemented with evaporative cooling to lower the air temperature. This can be accomplished with sprinklers or cool cells.

Table 2. Recommended Cold Weather Mechanical Ventilating Rates for Wean-to-Finish Animals
Production Stage Weight (lb.) Moisture Control* (cfm/head) Odor Control** (cfm/head) Add for Unvented Heaters (cfm/head)
Pre-nursery 9-30 1.0 3.5 0.5
Nursery 30-75 1.5 5.0 0.5
Grower 75-150 3.5 10 1.0
Finisher 150-260 5.0 18 1.0
*Typically used when designing ventilation for cold weather.
**Used only when odors are a concern. Airflow to control odors typically needs to be two to three times higher than ventilating for moisture control.

Table 3. Recommended Mechanical Ventilating Rates for Wean-To-Finish Animals Based on Weather Conditions
Production Stage Weight (lb.) Mild (cfm/head) Hot (cfm/head)
Pre-nursery 9-30 10 25
Nursery 30-75 15 35
Grower 75-150 24 75
Finisher 150-260 35 120

Ventilation Principles

The purpose of a ventilation system is to bring fresh, outside air into the building through planned openings, and thoroughly mix it with stale, inside air. In addition, good ventilation will pick up heat, moisture and air contaminants; lower temperature, humidity and contamination levels; and exhaust moist, contaminated air from the building.

The principals of the concept to determine cold, mild and hot weather ventilation rates are shown in Figure 1. Note the increased rates needed for odor control, as compared to moisture control, and the supplemental heat needed during cold weather.

The three most common ventilation systems are all-mechanical, mechanical/natural and all-natural.

There are two categories of mechanical ventilation:

  • Traditional, with ceiling air inlets and fans in the sidewall and pits; and

  • A three-season system (fall, winter and spring) with a traditional, mechanical system and tunnel ventilation during hot weather. Ventilation rates are spelled out in Tables 2 and 3.

Tunnel ventilation should provide 300 fpm of air movement. The fan capacity needed for tunnel ventilation can be determined by taking the room width times the height, times 300 fpm. A 41-ft.-wide barn with an 8-ft. ceiling would require about 100,000 cfm of fan capacity (41×8×300=98,400). A tunnel-ventilated facility should be designed with 50-60 cfm/pig of ventilation capacity (pit and wall fans and ceiling air inlets), so tunnel ventilation isn't needed until outdoor air temperatures reach 80°F. The additional conventional capacity will provide for more management flexibility and better air distribution when outdoor temperatures drop.

The mechanical/natural facilities have curtain sides and a flat ceiling. Operational problems can occur in the spring and fall or in transition between hot and cold seasons. This is especially true where curtains are opening too quickly because the inside temperatures are too warm.

Many curtain-sided barns with mechanical ventilation were designed for 25-30 cfm/pig. A 30 cfm rate should keep curtains from operating until outdoor temperatures reach 55°F with a room temperature of 68°F. Curtains in mechanically/naturally ventilated buildings should start to operate during the latter stages of mild weather conditions. A minimum 3-in. overlap should exist at the top to control cold air infiltration when fully closed.

Design Problems

One of the main problems with mechanically/naturally ventilated facilities is that finishing room temperatures exceed 70°F when outdoor temperatures are less than 50°F. Some reasons are: temperature set points may need adjusting, inadequate fan and/or air inlet capacity, air intake into the attic is undersized or being restricted, pit fans are connected to undersized transitions or the manure pit is full or fans/shutters are dirty.

Attempting to fine-tune indoor temperatures for this barn style is extremely difficult and often results in undesirable temperature fluctuations, drafts and air quality problems. The cross-sectional area adjacent to pit fans should be sized at a rate of 1,000 fpm. A 5,000 cfm pit fan would require an opening of 5 sq. ft. Dirty fans and shutters can reduce ventilation capacity up to 40%.

Fresh air intake into the attic space to “feed” interior ceiling air inlets should be sized by taking total ventilation (cfm) divided by 400 fpm. At 30 cfm/pig in a 1,000-head, curtain-sided barn, total fan capacity needs would be 30,000 cfm. Dividing 30,000 cfm by 400 equals an eave opening of 75 sq. ft. If the barn is 200 ft. long and the entire intake is placed on the south side, an opening of 4.5-5 in. is required the full length of the barn on the south side. Cover air intake openings with wire or plastic mesh no finer than ¾-in. to keep birds out.

Ridge vents are definitely needed when intake air is brought in through the eaves to help balance the pressure in the attic. There is always a negative pressure by the ridge, regardless of wind direction. Consult resources listed at the end of this article for the correct way to construct an adequate air intake.

If there are no eaves on your facility, consider bringing fresh air in from hooded openings on the gable ends of the barn.

Air Inlets

Enough air inlets should be installed for whole-room, fresh air distribution and the inlet capacity should match fan capacity. Air inlets should be adjusted so that exhaust air speeds are 700-1,000 fpm and room static pressure is 0.04-0.06 in. of water (Figure 2). A manometer, which measures static pressure (Figures 2 and 3), will help with room environment adjustments.


The controller should be functional and adaptable to your ventilation system, as well as flexible, understandable, reliable, accurate, serviceable and durable. Many producers have difficulty understanding and operating the controller.

Establish a written standard operating procedure (SOP) for facilities with your ventilation supplier and/or consultant before putting pigs in the barn. Modify as needed. This will help you to understand the controller operation and the total ventilation system.

Routinely check temperature settings and sensors, even with highly automated systems. This is especially true for humidity sensors. Also, a controller should not substitute for visual observations and good husbandry practices.

An important item to note about variable-speed fans and controllers is that the percentage shown on the controller as a minimum idle speed usually doesn't coincide with the amount of air being exhausted. There is usually no correlation between the input voltage to the fan and the actual cfm output. Certain controllers have a fan or motor curve function that allows for matching up with the variable speed fan in use. Having the proper fan curve should help smooth out this response, but it still needs checking.


Producers often ask which hog building system is best. The answer could be all or none of them. Hogs are extremely adaptable animals, and given the opportunity, will perform very well. Each building system and climate provides its own set of challenges.

For additional resource materials on swine facilities and ventilation systems, such as the Midwest Plan Service publication “Swine Wean-to-Finish Buildings” (AED-46), contact your local county Extension educator or Midwest Plan Service ( at (800) 562-3616.

Ventilation Workshops

A series of ventilation workshops called “Managing Your Unseen Employee: The Ventilation System” are being planned in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.

Workshops will take an in-depth look at the operation of a ventilation system in different seasons and its impact on pig performance. A working ventilation lab and other working models will be used to demonstrate these principles.

The workshops are currently being planned to start in December, sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service and state pork producer councils.

For further details, contact state or local county Extension educators.

Tracking Progress in Grow-Finish

For grow-finish pigs, the changes in expectations, production performance and parameters in the past 20-plus years are striking.

A good example of the change in performance expectations is shown in Table 1. This table summarizes results from two experiments, one conducted in 1980, the other in 2001. Both experiments were carried out in the same partially slotted, modified-open-front facility at similar times of the year using feeder pigs from a single source.

In Table 1, note the large increase in average daily gain, average final weight, and the large improvement in feed conversion efficiency when comparing the 2001 and 1980 trials.

There are many reasons for these performance differences. The most obvious include single-sex ('01) vs. mixed-sex pens of pigs ('80), and different feeders, genetics, health status and nutritional regimens.

This list of differences highlights many of the changes that have occurred in the finishing phase of production. As researchers, producers, nutritionists, veterinarians, equipment manufacturers and others have better understood the pig and its needs, and breeders have responded to the genetic challenge, expectations of normal performance have ratcheted higher in the past couple of decades.

Flooring Design Revisited

Another significant change during this time span is the return to putting weaned pigs on concrete slats.

In the early 1980s, woven wire flooring and decks were the rage. Producers discovered that separating weaned pigs from their manure resulted in fewer health problems and cleaner pigs, compared to housing pigs on cement slats in partially slotted nursery facilities.

Today, with the advent of wean-to-finish systems, producers are housing pigs on fully slotted floors vs. the partially slotted floors popular in the '80s. And, the diets being offered are much improved.

Table 1. Change in Finishing Pig Performance Over Time
Item 1980a 2001b
Space/pig, ft.2 9.0 7.5
Pig Weight, lb.
In 49 62
Sale 206 260
Daily Gain, lb. 1.50 1.95
Days to Market 105 102
Feed:Gain 3.34 2.72
a.J Anim. Sci. 55:1264-1271
bUniversity of Nebraska Experiment 01306, unpublished

While health challenges remain, fewer pig movements and less power washing are major forces pulling producers to try this type of pig flow.

Pens, Curtains, Ventilation

In the early '80s, as producers moved hog production from outside lots to confinement, everyone just “knew” that small pens were important to maximize performance.

Yet today, many producers are housing grow-finish pigs in confinement in large pens of 100-500 pigs and are recording excellent performance. In some straw-based systems, pens of 1,200 pigs are being used in other parts of the world.

About 20 years ago, automatic curtain controllers were just beginning to be adapted from the poultry industry. A large number of naturally ventilated finishing facilities had manual openings that were adjusted “as necessary.” This usually meant adjustments were made in the morning and in the evening.

Now any facility with curtain openings has an automatic controller to adjust environmental conditions for the pigs as needed.

Control systems for regulation of temperature in the pig zone have changed, too. Two decades ago, pork producers used mechanical thermostats, with each fan, curtain, furnace or sprinkler having a separate thermostat.

In 2002, most swine confinement facilities have electronic controllers that interlock all of the various devices. No longer does the furnace run when the summer fan is also running.

Nutritional Changes

Back in the '80s, pigs were delivered to grow-finish weighing 40-50 lb. They were offered diets formulated with corn and soybean meal containing .85% lysine. Inorganic phosphorus was added at levels that maximized bone strength in replacement gilts.

Now pigs of this size routinely receive diets containing 1% to 1.2% lysine, with some of the amino acids in the diet coming from synthetic sources. And phytase is used to reduce the amount of phosphorus in the manure.

In the '80s, we discussed screen size for hammer mills. Today, we discuss particle size of the diet and the relative advantages and disadvantages of roller mills vs. hammer mills.


Twenty years ago, a large percentage of pigs were sold to packers on a liveweight basis.

Today, the vast majority is valued on the basis of carcass merit, generally based on a measure of backfat and loin muscle depth.

In the ‘80s, average slaughter weight was 220-225 lb. These days the average weight for market hogs is over 260 lb., with many production systems averaging 275-280 lb.

Feed Conversion

While average slaughter weights have increased significantly over the years, the pork industry has achieved great progress in feed conversion efficiencies.

In 1982, feeder pig finishers in the Iowa State University (ISU) Swine Enterprise Records program reported a feed efficiency of 3.82 lb. of feed per pound of live weight gain for growing pigs from 51 to 225 lb.

Data from the 2000 PigCHAMP data share summary on 6,342 lots of pigs in 197 herds reported a 3.09 feed: gain ratio for pigs from 57 to 250 lb.

Pig Flow, Treatment, Production Sites

In the '80s, continuous-flow facilities for finishing pigs was the norm, with all-in, all-out (AIAO) production flow just beginning to be used in farrowing and nursery facilities.

Today, AIAO flow is the norm in farrowing, nursery and finishing facilities.

It used to be that swine veterinarians dealt with chronic herd health problems including atrophic rhinitis, pneumonias and internal and external parasites.

But today, the concerns are more about flare-ups in diseases than chronic problems. We have a wider variety of vaccines available than ever before. Our knowledge of the strategic use of vaccines, anti-microbials and other medications in both feed and water regimens has changed how we treat and prevent disease challenges.

During the '80s, many production facilities were at a single site. Today, while some single-site systems remain, new investment in facilities is geared to two- or three-site production systems. The goal is to remove the weaned pig from the breeding herd to minimize chronic disease challenges.

Records, Managing Risk

Today, producers talk about risk management and they don't just mean price. They are asking about the sources of risk to the production system, and then making investment and management decisions to minimize risks.

In the '80s, a limited number of producers were using production and financial record systems such as the ISU Swine Enterprise Records, or feed company swine records programs. Today, most producers use some type of production records system.

The National Pork Producers Council implemented Production and Financial Standards to bring uniformity to production and financial records. Advances in data collection and summarization mean producers are now using temperature and daily feed and water disappearance records to monitor the growth process, rather than relying on simple close-out reports to profile “what went wrong” in the growth process.

Two decades ago, up to 33% of the pigs fed to slaughter weight were traded as feeder pigs. Many were commingled from several sources.

Today, while an even larger percentage of pigs move between farrowing, nursery and finishing facilities, they are almost always single-source pigs.

Missouri was the largest source of feeder pigs for Iowa finishers in the early '80s.

Today, we routinely buy and sell newly weaned pigs weighing 10-12 lb. Canada has emerged as a major source of feeder pigs for Midwest finishers. As of Aug. 31, border crossings of pigs weighing less than 110 lb. averaged 73,178 pigs per week in 2002. At this pace, U.S. producers will import 3.81 million feeder pigs from Canada this year, up 670,000 from the 3.14 million imported in 2001.

Meeting Health Demands

In the '80s, to get 500 head of uniform pigs to fill a finishing facility, producers had to combine pigs from as many as 8-10 different sources. While the pigs had similar weights, little was known about their age, genetics and/or previous health status. Feeder pigs were bought and sold on “reputation.”

Today, buyers of pigs often have their veterinarian discuss herd health concerns with the veterinarian for the seller. It is possible to place 1,000, single-sex pigs into a facility from a single farrowing site that are within 3 days of age of each other and the result of specific genetic matings.

In the '80s, producers sold pigs to the packer with the philosophy that the producer knew what type of pig was best to produce.

Today, consumer pressures on the entire production chain, from the retailer to the producer, mean producers are being asked to produce and deliver pigs that fill or meet consumer demands. These demands include food safety, animal welfare, environmental responsibility and so on.

Producers today must respond to and maintain appropriate records to verify a wide range of production practices.


The 22 years since 1980 have seen many changes in grow-finish production technology. The next 20 years can be predicted to have even more dramatic changes.

Probably the surest change will be the ability to quickly respond to the changing desires of consumers. Pork production systems of the future will have closer linkages to consumers. And successful producers will adopt grow-finish production systems that are responsive to those consumer demands.

22 Years of Progress

Following are highlights of advancements in grow-finish facilities over the course of the past two decades.


Today, with the advent of wean-to-finish systems, producers are housing pigs on fully slotted floors vs. partially slotted floors popular in the '80s.


Today, many producers are housing grow-finish pigs in confinement pens of 100-500 pigs and are recording excellent performance. In some straw-based systems, pens of 1,200 pigs are being used in other parts of the world.


Now, any facility with curtain openings has an automatic controller to adjust environmental conditions for the pigs as needed.


Now, 40-50 lb. pigs routinely receive diets containing 1% to 1.2% lysine, with some of the amino acids in the diet coming from synthetic sources. And phytase is used to reduce the amount of phosphorus in the manure.


Today, the vast majority is valued on the basis of carcass merit, generally based on a measure of backfat and loin muscle depth.


Today, AIAO flow is the norm in farrowing, nursery and finishing facilities.


Today, the concerns are more about flare-ups in diseases than chronic problems.

Records Management

Today, most producers use some type of production records system.

Buying and Selling

Today, we routinely buy and sell newly weaned pigs weighing 10-12 lb. Canada has emerged as a major source of feeder pigs for Midwest finishers.

Herd Health

Today, buyers of pigs often have their veterinarian discuss herd health concerns with the veterinarian for the seller.

Keys to Achieving High-Health Status

Health is key for efficient grow-finish performance. Without good health, an animal's potential cannot be fully expressed.

Lower health status is a leading cause of increased variation in grow-finish performance. Improved health in grow-finish also reduces the need for feed-grade medications. Management tools must be used to optimize individual and group health.

Because health is so important to efficiency, the industry is developing more high-health systems, including efforts to control porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and raise PRRS-negative grow-finish pigs.

Achieving High Health

Depopulation and repopulation have been used to rapidly increase the health status of farms. This is no small task and must start at the sow farm.

Very often, grow-finish sites are used to house the replacement females for an off-site breeding project. The off-site breeding approach reduces the downtime to four weeks. Without pigs on the sow farm site, the new herd is ready to farrow once pregnant females are cleared to come back to the site. This makes the economics of the depopulation much easier to justify — especially in multi-site production systems.

In evaluating the economics of depopulation and repopulation, the greatest financial impact is from the grow-finish phase of production. In one model, over 74% of the financial benefit was from the improvement in finishing, reducing the cost of production by over $10/pig.

Sow herd stabilization and disease eradication programs are also being used to control PRRS and Mycoplasmal pneumonia. These protocols are based on the gilts being in the area where disease agents continue to circulate in herds. For these eradication programs to be successful, the farms first must be stable to these disease agents.

In the case of mycoplasma, herd stabilization may involve vaccination and medication. Once the herd is stable and generating negative pigs, it is closed to gilt additions for 6-12 months. A whole-herd medication and vaccination program is used at the same time to reduce potential shedding of the organism. Protocols must be farm specific.

Maintaining High Health

Maintaining high health is just as important as achieving it. This means that herds must have biosecurity guidelines to reduce the opportunity for disease introduction.

Many farms are working on animal transport to ensure protection. Using dedicated trucks, trailers and truck washes protects pigs from cross-contamination in different flows and sources.

New Vaccinations

Ileitis vaccine (Boehringer Ingelheim's Enterisol Ileitis) has been working very well to control the late-breaking hemorrhagic form of the disease, which traditionally was difficult to control and very costly due to the loss of marketable pigs.

There are a number of new erysipelas vaccines that extend immunity throughout the finishing phase. Both injectable and oral products are available.

After last summer's many severe outbreaks in the Midwest, use of erysipelas vaccines has increased dramatically for pigs finished in the summer. Start vaccinations in mid-February for protection through the summer. The products need to be re-boostered in the finisher.

Oral salmonella vaccines are also being used more to reduce feed-grade medications.

Oral vaccines make compliance easier on the farm. Precautions must be taken during administration to prevent inactivation.

All feed-grade medications must be out of the feed for at least five days before and after the use of oral vaccines to avoid the inactivation of vaccine and allow time for the immune system to be stimulated.

When water medicators are used, the medicator and containers used to hold the vaccine must be clean and free of antibiotic or disinfectant residue to protect the vaccine. If the water source is chlorinated, it must be treated with sodium thiosulfate to bind the chlorine.

Combination Vaccine Products

New injectable vaccine combinations include swine influenza virus, mycoplasma and erysipelas. These reduce injections, improve farm compliance and reduce the risk of broken needles and injuries to the pigs and employees.

However, use of combination products can present some challenges because the amount of maternal antibody in the herd will dictate when these products can be used.

Farms may not be able to use all the combination products, but can probably reduce at least one injection.

The most common example is the mycoplasma-influenza combination from Pfizer. We want to and can vaccinate nursery pigs for mycoplasma. This doesn't work for flu because the first mycoplasma injection is at 6-8 weeks of age, which is too early for flu. However, the second dose of mycoplasma and first dose of flu can be given together. Then the second dose of flu vaccine can be given later in the finisher.

Each herd will need to do its own monitoring to determine the proper timing and placement of vaccine.

Concentration of Finishing Production

More and more finishing buildings are being built near the corn crop to lower feed costs. The change in corn prices this year reinforces the value of this strategy. Consequently, the Corn Belt is becoming more and more concentrated with finishing buildings. This will impact vaccination protocols, resulting in more vaccinations to reduce disease.

Do your homework to get set up correctly for the next finishing group.

Make sure that the barn has been properly washed, dried and disinfected.

Make sure the barn is warmed up to the proper operating temperature before the pigs are placed.

Understand the health status of incoming pigs. This goes back to the health status of the source herd's nursery and farrowing. If the health status has changed, the flow of animals may need to change as well. Vaccination protocols may need to be modified to reflect the changes in the source farm, area or season.

Management of the grow-finish pig revolves around providing a good environment, minimizing disease, and early detection and treatment of disease on a daily basis. Daily care is vital and makes the difference between good and average groups of pigs. Steps include:

  • Check the barn twice a day and walk pens daily to identify potential problems;

  • Monitor barn temperature, humidity, drafts, fans and heaters;

  • Check pig activity; focus on pigs that don't get up. Look at pigs lying in protected areas such as corners. Look in the pen you just left to see if individuals are lying back down right away. This is usually a sign of problems.

Look at every pig every day. Develop a system to evaluate the pigs from snout to tail:

  • Respiratory (cough, labored breathing, runny nose and gaunt);

  • Enteric (loose stool, discolored stool and gaunt);

  • Lameness;

  • Systemic (purple ears, belly); and

  • Central nervous system (down, paddling).

Observe the disease timeline (Figure 1) to help with diagnosis. Early identification is the key to successful treatment.

Having specific treatment protocols broken down by these conditions allows everyone to know how to respond when sick pigs are identified.

If we can identify the problem pigs early on, we can intervene and help them recover and become productive quicker. The only way this occurs is if staff is fully committed to this task daily.

When filling the barn, set aside some space to sort out unhealthy, unthrifty pigs to enable them to recover. Don't just sort for size. Identify and move sick pigs to sick or sort pen areas (yellow pens in Figure 2). As they recover, move to graduation pens (pink pens in Figure 2). When 6-8 head are accumulated, move to recovery pens (blue pens in Figure 3).

Taking action on problems is also a key to success. For example, if there is a variation from the desired barn temperature, investigate why the heater isn't working, rather than just recording the high-low temperature and going on to other tasks. Then repair the heater.

Health Monitoring

Diagnostics are a very important part of health monitoring — walking the pens, recognizing areas of concern and investigating the problems. Today, the best pen-side diagnostics are the observation skills of the people taking care of the pigs. Then a complete diagnostic plan can be implemented, including:

  • Postmortem examinations of problem pigs;

  • Serology samples taken from the group which can often be set up as an ongoing monitoring program, and

  • Slaughter checks of specific groups.

Understanding Immunity

Understanding pig immunity is important to efficient performance. Realizing when maternal antibodies are lost and when the pig will be vulnerable to pathogens are important points. Avoiding exposure is still the goal, but for some pathogens this can't be done and we must have control strategies.

Vaccination timing involves knowing when the maternal antibodies subside to a point that the vaccines can be effective.

Pulse dosing of antibiotics can be an effective method to avoid overwhelming the pigs while they have a chance to develop their own immunity.

Recording Systems

These systems continue to improve with many farms and systems developing real-time monitoring systems. With all-in, all-out production, we have achieved good records, but we were always evaluating past performance. That's still valuable information, but it doesn't help improve group performance.

Monitoring weekly (and soon to be daily) changes in mortality, number of injections, coughing indexes and stool scores are good in-process monitors providing earlier identification of problems within groups and for detection of a trend within the system. Table 1 provides an example of average weekly mortality rates.

The information comes from the daily barn record sheet. These sheets usually include:

  • High/low temperatures
  • Injectable medications given
  • Number of mortalities
  • Water medications given
  • Vaccinations given
  • Any other special events (curtain broke, pumped pits, etc.)

This data is forwarded to track across groups. Metafarms is developing a program to record this type of information on a daily basis via data downloading over telephone lines. Then daily reports can be generated even faster to identify problems and trends.

In this way, peak periods of mortality can be identified so you can intervene at the best time. Charting the performance can help identify trends in the production system.

Also, statistical process control charts can be used to identify the difference between normal variation and true changes in production.

Pig Flow

As swine production facilities have become more specialized and expensive, pig flow must be optimized.

Variation in weaned pig production and growth rate are reasons why pig flow is such a challenge. Since pig production is a biological process, there will always be some variation in systems. The challenge is to minimize this variation to make pig flow easier to manage.

Variation in the system must be detected as soon as possible if throughput of all the facilities is to be maximized.

Multi-site production has made pig flow more challenging to understand and manage because of the opportunity for variation in numbers and health status from all the various sites. Generally, the variation among farms never balances out the production flow because when one farm is under-producing, you don't have another farm over-producing to make up the difference.

Health status in farrowing sites can change, altering the pig flow. Multi-site production does offer some flexibility. A disease may not exist in all sites of production; therefore, an alternative pig flow can be used until the health concern has stabilized.

Health status, season, nutrition, genetics and management changes can affect performance. These factors will change pig flow but not necessarily affect the entire system.

Health changes between sites will make predicting flow even more difficult. Health monitoring will help to predict problems. Monitoring growth performance will also help predict changes in flow.

Predicting Pig flow

Time of breeding is the best place to begin predicting pig flow. Specific breeding targets should be set and tracked.

Monitoring pig weights is the best way to predict pig flow for pigs in grow-finish. In most systems, this can be done at weaning and when pigs are transferred to the finisher.

Production records can be used to predict system performance. This can be especially important to predict seasonal effects, for example.

Models can be developed to more accurately predict pig flow using simple spreadsheets with these parameters in the model: number of sows bred per group, pregnancy check results, any fallout recorded, average weight and number at weaning. The farrowing rate report in PigCHAMP contains most of the data needed and can easily be dropped into the spreadsheet model.

Modeling nursery and finishing performance can be done by using some basic assumptions and production records. Numbers required in the model include: average starting weight, average market weight, average daily gain, days to finish for the group beyond the average finishing date, days before the average group finishing date that the first animals will be ready for market and days needed to clean up the site.

These numbers can be adjusted to match what's happening in the system when there are differences from predicted values.

Average daily feed consumption is another production parameter that can be modeled to predict group performance. Using the group's feed budget is one way to see if the group is staying on track with the projected dates. This can be done by monitoring feed deliveries without having to weigh pigs to compare against the model.

Use of Antibiotics in Feed

This is an important topic. Changes have already occurred in the European Union (EU), where the only approved use of antibiotics in feed is for therapeutic use.

These types of regulations can be very difficult to work with because the pigs have to get sick before the feed-grade medications can be prescribed. Therefore, use of strategic and pulse dose medications cannot be done.

Some reports from the field indicate that actual use of therapeutic feed-grade medications has risen in these countries because treatment is always after the fact and not as effective. This type of system can't be more efficient nor provide the best animal welfare.

The use of growth promotants in the grow-finish phase has been debated in the scientific literature. There is little debate that if a disease is present, a positive effect is seen with feed-grade medications. In the field, it is difficult to separate the effects of disease control and growth performance.

The cost of feed has a great deal of influence on the value of growth promotant products. As feed prices increase, the value of increased efficiency, average daily gain and feed conversion is much higher.

There are a number of other factors, such as the amount of finishing space available, and the cost of that space, to be considered in the decision process. Using records and farm trials are good methods to evaluate the value of these products. Evaluate the use of growth-promoting products on a farm and system basis.

Large Pen Finishing

There has been much discussion about this new technology, but little data published that shows a consistent growth advantage.

The use of the large pen has challenged some of the conventional wisdom about grow-finish pen design. Feeder and water space needs probably don't change with the pen size. Just as in all phases of swine production, the personnel doing the daily chores play a critical role in the performance. There are some interesting opportunities for these systems, however. For example:

  • Cost of construction — less gating is required and there is better use of the square footage in the barn.

  • The pig can find the best environment in the barn. Pigs have the ability to move away from a draft or cold area.

  • Less concern with social order and dominance. Large pens promote less fighting as submissive pigs can get away from more aggressive pigs. Pigs don't pursue over 30 ft. That translates into better competitive advantage.

  • Health status may be improved as less differences within pens should result in fewer disease subpopulations. Immunity within the group is more even. This may be even more important with wean-to-finish facilities.

  • Large pen systems also have limitations:

  • Individual pig care may be compromised as observation becomes more difficult. You must make sure that you see every pig every day. Treating and sorting out pigs that are not competitive is more difficult.

  • Sorting loads for market has been one of the bigger challenges of wean-to-finish systems. This may be addressed by new automatic sorting technologies.

Because large pens are relatively new, there is still more to learn. How well they are managed will determine if they will be successful. Experience has shown that if problems with management show up, they can be magnified in these types of systems.

Hog Market Upturn Forecast

Pork producers appear to have dodged an impending return to the hog market crisis of ’98-’99, according to Chris Hurt, Purdue University Extension marketing specialist.

Even though depressed prices are still forecast for this fall and winter, by early spring prices could return to breakeven levels, says Hurt. Prices could rebound into the black by late spring and summer.

"If additional sow liquidation occurs this fall and winter, hog prices should be strong in the last half of 2003 and into 2004," he adds.

Hurt advises producers to continue raising hogs this fall provided they can cover variable or "out-of-pocket" costs. He notes producers should cull least-productive animals, keep market weights moderate and continue to evaluate long-term strategies.

Antibiotic Projects Funded

The National Pork Board has funded five projects on alternatives to subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in weaned pigs.

The five projects and main researchers are:

  • Effect of probiotics in the health and performance of nursery pigs raised in conventional or antibiotic/growth promoter-free farms, Robert Morrison, DVM, University of Minnesota;
  • second bullet: On-farm evaluation of diet acidification, James Pettigrew, University of Illinois;
  • third bullet: Impact of a pig-derived competitive exclusion culture as an alternative to antibiotics to control colibacillosis, Roger Harvey, Agriculture Department, Agricultural Research Service;
  • fourth bullet: Inoculation of bacterial pathogens to control disease, Carlos Pijoan, DVM, University of Minnesota; and
  • fifth bullet: Effect of probiotic lactic acid bacteria on health, growth and survival, Lucy Ward, The Ohio State University, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

"The National Pork Board reviewed 20 proposals related to antibiotic alternatives," explains Jill Appell, chair of the Pork Checkoff Pork Safety Committee and an Altona, IL, pork producer. Projects funded "will ideally help all producers, from large-scale to organic and natural production systems, stay ahead of the curve to produce a safe, quality pork product," she adds.

Bio-terrorism Simulation

National Pork Producers Council President-Elect Jon Caspers participated Sept. 30 in a simulated bio-terrorism exercise sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Caspers joined other agricultural officials observing USDA testing its capability in dealing with a possible attack on agriculture and its infrastructure.

"Crimson Sky" was the first of six planned exercises designed to give the agency a better appreciation of issues and constraints in a bio-terrorism situation.

Caspers, a pork producer from Swaledale, IA, stressed the importance of participating in such exercises in "combating the public’s fear and the spread of misinformation about bio-terrorism.

"Participating in the simulation reminds those of us in the agricultural community that we will need to be vigilant and always prepared for the worst-case scenario," he notes.