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Articles from 2006 In October

Brace for Higher Feed Costs

The feedgrain price situation has been the talk of the meat industry this week with quite a bit of speculation as to both the short- and long-term impact it may have. I think it is worthwhile to think some of this through so producers can begin to develop some strategies for the future.
Figure 1 shows my now-familiar estimates of the cost of the corn and soybean meal needed to make a 16% crude protein pig diet. The cost went up another $6/ton last week to reach $106.97, its highest level since July 2004, when the cost was in a free-fall as the corn crop was making rapid progress toward setting a record.
In addition, corn and soybean meal futures rose again last week to push the forecasted diet cost higher with the peak now at $124.19/ton next June. Allowing another $30 or so for vitamins, minerals, additives, grinding and mixing, this would put feed costs at over $150/ton next summer.
Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) corn futures for the deferred contracts have risen by 8 cents or so this past week, putting a more normal December-to-December "carry" into this market. So, the forecasted costs shown in Figure 1 for late 2007 are a bit low for today's market. Suffice it to say that higher feed costs are on the way sooner than we had expected.
<b>Impact on Feeder Animal Prices</b>
One of the first reactions we would expect would be a decline in feeder animal prices, but the impact has been pretty slow thus far. Western Kansas cash feeder cattle prices have fallen by about $10/cwt. since mid-September, but prices for weaned pigs and feeder pigs haven't reacted much yet.
Figure 2 shows both spot and weighted average (includes contracted pigs) prices for both classifications. Note that our information for spot feeder pig prices is quite sketchy. Those straight segments in the spot 45-lb. feeder pig line represent weeks for which no price quote was available. The weighted average price is heavily influenced by the deferred Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Lean Hog futures from which many pigs are priced. The recent decline in futures prices can be clearly seen in this graph.
Weaned pig prices are still rising in a more or less normal, seasonal manner at present. The vertical dashed lines have been added to help you compare price action during the second week of October for the past three years.
The big impact of higher corn prices on feeder markets has been on CME Feeder Cattle futures, which have fallen by well over $8-11/cwt. (depending on the contract) since their peak in early September. The same would likely be true if we had a feeder pig futures market.
<b>Tempering Market Weights</b>
I think the most likely short-term impact on the hog business will be a slowing or cessation in the growth of market weights. But discerning the effect of the now-higher corn prices will be difficult because we have been running quite close to year-ago levels for much of 2006.
Figure 3 shows the long-term trend in hog carcass weights. The only time that this upward trend has flattened since 1986 was in 1995 and 1996 when corn prices went to record high levels. But note that carcass weights did not decline in those years; the rate of growth just slowed. Note also that carcass weights in August of this year went below those of last year (marked by the vertical lines in Figure 3), and it appears that carcass weight increases have already slowed. Figures 4 and 5 confirm this.
Figure 4 presents the average weight of all hogs slaughtered under federal inspection. It includes sows, boars, top barrows and gilts and light hogs. Weekly figures for 2006 have run very near those for 2005 since May. Note how high both lines are relative to the average carcass weights for 2000 through 2004 -- a function of the increase in carcass weights over that period.
Figure 5 presents the average carcass weight data from the mandatory price reporting (MPR) system for barrows and gilts. It is based on data only from plants that slaughter more than 100,000 head/year and, thus, omits data for the many small plants that slaughter roaster pigs, lightweight and "off" hogs. And yet the year-over-year pattern is almost identical to that for all hogs with weights this year being quite close to those of last year since March.
So why were weights not rising even before corn prices took off? First, I know that some packers have imposed larger discounts on heavy hogs and that may have caused producers to be much more careful in sorting, thus reducing average weights. Second, I wonder whether some of the porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD) problems are manifesting themselves in lower average daily gains, thus leading to final weights very near those of one year ago.
Higher feed prices may be additive to these in the future so I look for, at most, flat carcass weight growth in 2007.
<a href="" target="_new"><img align="left" valign="top" src="" vspace="0" border="0" hspace="3"></a><br><br> Click to view graphs.<br><br>
<font color="red">Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.<br>
Paragon Economics, Inc.<br>
e-mail: <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a></font>

Feeding early finishers for maximum gain

Producers should provide optimal intake of an optimal diet for the correct weight pig.

Pigs moving into the early finishing stage are entering an unprecedented phase of rapid lean growth.

Every producer would like these pigs to finish like “peas in a pod.” However, variation is an inevitable part of pork production. Some pigs grow faster than others. This can be due to a multitude of factors including genetics, nutrition, environment and health.

Some pigs will reach market weight earlier than others. The majority of the group will follow, including the lightweight hogs shipped to empty the finisher.

Plotting all of the weights in a group on a given day reveals a typical bell-shaped curve. Our job is to look for ways to tighten up that bell-shaped curve.

Many production concepts will not help the best pigs to grow faster. Tightening the curve is achieved by not allowing the slow pigs to lag too far behind the leaders.

Optimal feed intake

Producers should provide optimal intake of an optimal diet for the correct weight pig. The process sounds simple, but in reality this is not so easy to accomplish.

There are many points to consider when starting a feeder pig versus managing the 40- to 80-lb. pig in a wean-to-finish production system. For instance, the wean-to-finish system does not have the added movement/mixing stress that a feeder pig encounters at this stage of production.

Some of the points below apply to all pigs in the early finishing stage of production, while others only apply to feeder-to-finish production flows. All are attempts to tighten up the bell-shaped curve.

Water presentation

Many pigs today see a lot of countryside as they move within a production system. Whether groups are moved down a hallway or transported across the country, the first nutrient they are presented with is water.

Plenty of clean, fresh water is important to rehydrate pigs. The lack of proper water intake is the number one limiting factor to dry matter (feed) intake. If pigs do not drink, they will not eat.

Pigs consume 2-3 lb. of water for every pound of feed. The water flow rate for the early finishing pig should be about 1.5 pints/minute. This level will provide water as fast as a pig normally desires to drink. Poor water flow and out-of-water events will decrease water intake and subsequent feed intake.

Be careful when using water as the carrier for electrolytes, citric acid, antibiotics or other nutrients. Ensure that water consumption is not limited by the off-flavor of an additive. Sometimes, additives have the opposite effect of what's intended — to assist in getting newly placed pigs off to a good start.

Feed presentation

Presentation of feed to the pigs is important for optimizing feed intake. Providing fresh, high-quality feed is the ultimate goal.

In a perfect world, this goal would be achieved by delivering feed from bins that have been emptied and cleaned prior to the new group's arrival. It is also preferable to empty the feed bins between deliveries as well as between groups of pigs.

But with feed delivery systems, such as tube feeders with limited in-barn feed reserves, coordinating feed deliveries with emptying of the bin prior to each group's arrival becomes difficult.

Feed bins installed in a series have an advantage, because each bin can be emptied prior to starting the second bin.

Bins need to be checked for abnormal feed left over from condensation or water leakage into bins, which causes moldy feed to hang up and multiply in bins.

Pounding on the bins from the outside is not enough to evaluate bin cleanliness. Bins need to be checked routinely in the middle of each group of pigs and prior to the start of a new group of pigs. Moldy feed should be removed promptly.

The quality of feed is at least partially due to the quality of the individual ingredients. In the fall, when grain bins are being emptied, or during times when low-quality grains are being milled into feed, the use of mycotoxin binders and/or mold inhibitors may be necessary.

Both mold and mycotoxins can cause feed refusal. The feed may look normal, but laboratory testing is the only way to determine whether there is a mycotoxin concern.

Leftover feed from the previous group of finishing pigs usually exists in one of two scenarios:

First, the leftover feed is lower in protein, lysine and other nutrients than what is appropriate for newly placed feeder pigs. This scenario is even worse when newly weaned pigs are placed into a wean-to-finish system. Remove this feed from the bin and check to make sure the bin is clean.

Second, the leftover feed may contain ractopamine (Elanco Animal Health/Paylean). The diets containing the swine feed ingredient are closer to the early diets of finishing pigs, but ractopamine labeling restricts its use to pigs over 150 lb.; therefore, it must be removed.

Consistent particle size is important for a quality finishing diet. Pigs may sort diets with variable particle size or poorly pelleted rations.

Sorting of the feed and subsequent refusal of a fraction of the feed causes wastage, and the diet consumed is no longer the ration the nutritionist had intended.

Diet formulation

Developing the correct diet formulas for a flow of pigs is dependent on many factors. Genetic leanness, environment, feed consumption patterns and carcass characteristics are all valuable components in putting together a nutritional program.

Producers may need to use nutritional requirement information provided by the genetic supplier. Information on feed consumption patterns, growth rates and carcass characteristics generated on the farm will aid in defining the nutritional program.

Nutritionists can choose from an array of competitive ingredients to formulate diets for early finishing pigs. Energy sources may include corn, milo, wheat, barley, tallow or other fat sources. Protein sources may include soybean meal, canola meal, field peas or synthetic amino acids.

Armed with area ingredients, growth and performance information, your nutritionist can develop a feeding program to fit pork production needs.

The very early finishing stage may not be the most opportune time to concentrate on least-cost rations. Ingredients that pigs are not accustomed to or may cause feed refusal need to be eased into rations.

For example, young pigs may decrease feed consumption for a period of time if 15% dried distiller's grains with solubles is fed as the first diet when they are placed in a barn. Also, large variations in diet formulation between phases need to be changed gradually.

During warm months, heat increment must be taken into account when choosing feed ingredients. Heat increment is basically the energy requirement needed to break down an ingredient. The heat released makes the pig feel warmer. Diets with lower heat increments make pigs feel cooler.

For example, high-fiber ingredients have a higher heat increment and thus give off more heat in the process of digestion. Soy hulls, wheat midds and DDGS also have higher heat increments. Fats and amino acids have lower heat increments.

Nutrient-dense finishing diets fed during the warm months help decrease the heat released by digestion and improve summer feed intake. This effectively allows the pig to tolerate a warmer environment.

Early studies with the growth promotant virginiamycin (Phibro Animal Health) show similar results. As has been shown in poultry, virginiamycin appears to decrease the heat increment in pigs, especially during times of heat stress. These heat increment concerns need to be weighed against the cost of the ingredient.

The finishing stage of production is not the place for expensive, novel ingredients. With the bulk of feed costs confined to the finishing stage, don't add feed ingredients that do not have sound science behind their use.

Feeder adjustment

Feed presentation to the pig is important for early feed intake. Newly placed feeder pigs are not the best candidates to try to optimize feed efficiency. The early finishing growth phase is very efficient, because it concentrates on lean growth with virtually no fat laid down.

Feeders that are adjusted too tightly may limit feed intake, consequently growth, and have very little effect on feed conversion. Set feeders to provide 50% feed coverage in the trough for the first week, then adjust to allow 15-20% feed coverage for the remaining feeding period (photos at right).

If pigs have to work at the feeder too long, it may limit the amount of feed they consume. If feed consumption takes too long for the dominant pigs, the timid pigs may have limited consumption, which adds to the group's variation at marketing.

Feed availability

Studies have shown that out-of-feed events affect overall feed intake and subsequent average daily gain. Pigs need access to high-quality feed at all times.

Out-of-feed events can be caused by a number of circumstances. The problem may be mechanical, such as poorly designed feed drops causing bridging, or problems with timers and sensors.

Feed quality issues such as caking, fat balls in the winter or high fat/low particle size bridging are other concerns. Another area may be caretaker error, where bins are allowed to go empty.

Nutritional health effects

Some animal health concerns in finishing have nutritional implications. Hemorrhagic bowel syndrome is a condition that causes sudden death in fast-growing finishing pigs. The cause of HBS is poorly understood. If the intestinal environment can be changed, in many cases the losses due to HBS can be limited.

DDGS have been touted as reducing the incidence of HBS. The response is dramatic on some farms, but limited on others, and the mechanism of how this reduces mortality is not well understood. Some feel that the increase in fiber or change in digestibility of DDGS alters the gut environment enough to limit the factors fueling HBS.

Some observers feel that problems with ileitis may also subside with the use of fiber ingredients, such as soy hulls or DDGS. The effectiveness of these ingredients to decrease clinical ileitis appears to be much more sporadic than the response that is seen with HBS.

Diet-health concern

Porcine circovirus type 2, the causative agent for porcine circovirus-associated disease, is being linked as a cause of severe mortality in early finishing age pigs. Stresses in pigs appear to spur the PCV2 into action.

Circovirus is known for a respiratory condition it causes in swine, but many farms see an enteric component. The virus appears to be associated with clinical signs of diarrhea on many farms. It's too early to know whether the diarrhea is a clinical sign of PCV2 or a stressor that increases the severity of disease.

When developing a receiving diet to reduce stress on the pigs, it is helpful to know the makeup of the diet they ate last. “Gut friendly” receiving diets, those with soy hulls for fiber, limited fat supplementation and limited use of soybean meal for amino acid balance, all appear to help limit the diarrhea syndrome.

Similar barn fills of single-source groups have shown a significant decrease in the mortality rate when pigs were fed a receiving diet versus their normal entry diet.

Factors affecting feed intake

Getting pigs to eat feed as quickly as possible is always the goal, but achieving that goal is not always easy. The longer it takes to get pigs on feed and maintain maximum intake, the greater the odds of increased weight variation at the end of the finishing period.

Pigs eat to their energy needs. Energy is first used for maintenance, then for protein deposition and finally for fat deposition. The more a pig eats after its maintenance needs are met, the more lean gain it will deposit.

Chronic and acute disease conditions decrease feed consumption. Knowing a farm's historical feed consumption patterns, by stage of production, can help in formulating diets that meet a respective pig's needs.

Temperature can affect feed intake, too. Heat stress will vary with geography, barn site and type and season.

Naturally ventilated finishing barns will likely have more summer heat stress than tunnel-ventilated barns. Adjust diets for summer by using the heat increment of ingredients, which often are not least-cost diets.

Since feed costs represent the largest portion of pork production costs, the natural tendency is to formulate diets as close to the pigs' needs as possible. However, the summer slump caused by high temperatures can decrease consumption levels enough to drop nutrient intake below the pig's requirements.

Nutritionists need to consider significant feed intake reductions due to summer weather when formulating diets.

If pigs were trucked some distance or were previously fed a very different diet, a transition diet that addresses the stress of moving or the large change from diet to diet is appropriate.

Some pigs may have been fed primarily a corn-soybean meal diet, while others were fed small grain diets, including wheat and barley. Transition diets from nursery to finishing may be necessary.

Feedgrade antibiotics

Variation is also addressed by the use of feedgrade antibiotics. The prudent use of antibiotics in a therapeutic or growth-promoting capacity is a legitimate way to control variation. Always take farm history into consideration and review Pork Quality Assurance program guidelines.

For healthy pigs in good environments, the finishing period is a time of rapid growth. Packing the correct groceries into every pound of feed is important for continued health and maximum performance.

Many factors can lead to increased variation in finishing. Any area left unresolved can lead to a widening of the bell-shaped curve, producing fewer pounds of pork and more lightweight pigs at the end of the barn closeout.

Pork Export Slowdown Expected

Forecasts for a slight increase in production and a modest slowdown in pork export growth haven't dampened prospects for continued pork profitability, says a veteran hog economist.

“The latest USDA Hogs and Pigs Report was basically neutral with slightly higher breeding herd numbers,” reports Glenn Grimes, a University of Missouri Extension livestock marketing analyst.

The U.S. inventory of all hogs and pigs on Sept. 1, 2006 was 62.7 million head, up 1% from a year ago and up 2% from June 2006. The breeding herd inventory, at 6.08 million head, climbed 2% from last year and was slightly higher than the previous quarter.

That 2% increase in the breeding herd equated to 107,000 animals, according to Chris Hurt, Purdue University Extension marketing specialist.

“Somewhat surprisingly, 65,000 of those animals are in the eastern Corn Belt states, with Indiana's breeding herd up 30,000 head, Illinois up 20,000, Ohio up 10,000 and Wisconsin up 5,000,” says Hurt. Expansion in the Plains included South Dakota, up 15,000; and both Colorado and Kansas, up 10,000.

Missouri increased breeding animals by 15,000, while Minnesota dropped 5,000 and Iowa was unchanged.

Grimes provided price predictions during a Pork Checkoff-funded news conference. For 51 to 52% lean hogs, Grimes forecasts prices at $44-48/cwt. for the final quarter of '06, and to average near $50/cwt. through mid-2007.

Exports will support those prices, but not to the extent of the past three years, Grimes and Hurt agree.

Pork exports are expected to reach 3 billion lb. or about 14% of domestic production in 2006. Exports are projected to increase just 4% in 2007.

“This is a sharp slowdown from 2003-2006 when exports expanded by a compound annual rate of 21%,” says Hurt. “The major question will be if Asian pork purchases will hold up with U.S. beef once again flowing.”

As to the role of ethanol, Grimes says the rule of thumb is each 50-cent hike in corn prices raises the cost of production about $2.50/cwt. “If we see $3 corn, this will add about $5/cwt. to the cost of pork production compared to the last 12 months,” he says.

Developing Diets for Grower Pigs

Developing Diets for Grower Pigs

Because the nutrient requirements change quite rapidly in the grower stage, increasing dietary phases can reduce diet cost and nutrient excretion.

Grower pigs are capable of tremendous rates of protein deposition and growth while converting feed to gain at better than 2:1 efficiency.

They don't require complex diets or specialty ingredients like nursery pigs. But they do require high levels of amino acids, and often have large growth responses to increasing dietary energy because of their relatively low feed intake in relation to their high capacity for growth.

Because of the relatively low feed intake in grower pigs (or early finishing pigs), and their high capacity for protein deposition, diet formulation and management strategies should focus on increasing feed intake during this stage.

Establishing Diet Phases

The number of dietary phases to use in the grower stage depends on several factors, including the number of pigs in the building, feed mixing and delivery capability, as well as the age spread of the pigs.

Because the nutrient requirements change quite rapidly in the grower stage, increasing dietary phases can reduce diet cost and nutrient excretion. Most production systems change diets with every 30 to 40 lb. increase in body weight during the grower stage.

The first diet fed in this stage often has the shortest feeding period because of the high amino acid requirements. This first diet often contains growth-promoting levels of copper and other antimicrobials that are removed from later stages of production.

Formulating Phased Diets

Once the number of dietary phases is determined, diets must be formulated for each phase. Keys to diet formulation in the grower stage are to:

  1. Setting Energy Levels

    Determine the most economical energy level;

  2. Establish the lysine:calorie ratio for the genetics and production situation;

  3. Set the ratio for the other amino acids;

  4. Determine the available phosphorus level; and

  5. Set levels of vitamins, trace minerals, calcium, salt and other necessary ingredients.

Determining the optimal energy level will depend on many criteria, including the relative cost of grains, fat sources and byproducts.

Another criterion that must be considered is the relative value of average daily gain (ADG), and impact of energy level on growth rate in the production situation.

If growth rate is improved by increasing the dietary energy level, margin over feed cost should dictate the correct energy level in the diet instead of feed cost per unit of gain.

For example, in many situations, adding fat to the diet will increase diet cost and feed cost per pound of gain. Because the added fat also increases ADG under most commercial conditions, the value of the increased gain also must be considered in the economic calculation of the ideal energy level.

Common Nutrition Mistakes

Furthermore, because margin over feed cost would include the value of the increased gain, it would be more appropriate than feed cost per pound of gain for economic evaluation of the energy level.

There are many other examples where increasing dietary energy will increase ADG, but will also increase feed cost per unit of gain.

If, for instance, ample facility space is such that pigs will reach optimal market weight before they must exit the building, then the extra weight from increased ADG is not as valuable, and thus, optimal feed cost per unit of gain should dictate the energy level.

However, if facility space does not allow pigs to reach the optimal market weight, then the increased ADG will increase market weight, and margin over feed cost should dictate the optimal energy level.

In most production systems, adequate facility space is not available during the hot summer months. Thus, dietary energy levels higher than those required to minimize feed cost are often economical.

The most common mistakes that we have witnessed in grower pig nutrition programs are as follows:

Monitoring Ration Costs

  1. Not understanding the production or economic response to changing dietary energy levels in the production system;

  2. Not matching the lysine levels to the energy levels;

  3. Feeder Management

    Not providing more additives and micronutrients than required;

  4. Not adjusting feeders aggressively;

  5. Not feeding a small enough particle size; and

  6. Amino Acid, Phosphorus Recommendations

    Not always having feed available in the feeders.

Because of a lack of understanding of the importance of feed intake and energy responses in the grower stage, a common mistake in grower diets is the use of feed ingredients that are of lower palatability, or lower energy levels than what is required for optimal economic response.

These lower-energy or lower-palatability ingredients often lower the cost of the diet; however, their impact on feed intake and average daily gain must be considered in determining whether their use is economically justified.

Guidelines for Vitamins, Trace Minerals

The most economical energy level in grower diets can vary greatly between production systems or even within the same system due to changes in ingredient cost, market hog price and seasonality of growth rate.

Lysine and other amino acids should be adjusted along with the energy level of the diet. If the amino acid levels aren't adjusted as the energy level is changed, the pigs will either be underfed, resulting in lower performance or overfed, resulting in increased diet cost and nitrogen excretion rates.

Grower Pig Example Diets

Although the grower pig requires higher amino acid, energy, vitamin and mineral levels than older finishing pigs, producers need to be careful not to provide more nutrients and additives than are required.

A common problem for many producers is that “add packs,” similar to those used in nursery diets, are finding their way into grower diets.

Because each diet is fed at a minimum of 40 to 50 lb./pig in the grower phase, any unnecessary increase in diet cost will rapidly increase feed cost per pig. Each nutrient and feed additive should be carefully considered before increasing addition rate in grower diets.

Feeder management is critical to minimizing feed wastage and optimizing feed efficiency. Finely grinding feed to produce a particle size of 700 microns or less improves feed efficiency with most grains.

Reducing variability in particle size is the key to maintaining diet flowability when feeding mash with particle size less than 700 microns. We have observed greater flowability of grain ground with a roller mill compared to a hammer mill.

When finely grinding meal diets with high levels of added fat, it may be essential to use a roller mill. Recent studies at Kansas State University have shown that roller mill-ground corn with 6% added fat would have similar flowability as that of hammer mill-ground corn with no added fat.

Recommendations for amino acids and phosphorus are provided in Table 1 on page 35. The amino acids are listed as true ileal digestible (TID) amino acid recommendations. If corn-soybean meal diets are used, total amino acids levels can be used without many problems; however, if other energy or protein sources are added to the diets, digestible values should be used to account for variation in digestibility between ingredients.

Lysine recommendations continue to increase in the grower stage, due to increased protein deposition capability of modern genetics and feed intake in the field. Appropriate minimum ratios of other amino acids relative to lysine are also provided in Table 1.

We also recommend adjusting the levels of available phosphorus as the dietary energy level is changed, in order to achieve similar levels of available phosphorus intake. Thus, available phosphorus to metabolizable energy ratios are provided in Table 1.

Vitamin and trace mineral recommendations for grower pigs are provided in Table 2 on page 36. There is considerable debate on the ideal inclusion rates for vitamins and minerals. Some research indicates that higher levels of vitamins, such as vitamin E, or trace minerals, such as growth-promoting levels of copper, can be quite beneficial in the grower stage.

Other research shows little or no benefit. The recommendations in Table 2 are met by most commercial vitamin and trace mineral premixes.

Example diets of simple corn-soybean meal with no added fat and 5% added fat are provided in Table 3. Because of the high lysine requirement during the early grower period, the diets require high levels of soybean meal.

With the use of L-lysine HCl at 3 lb./ton, other amino acids (methionine and threonine) will be slightly deficient if they are not also added to the diet.

By adding fat to the diet, the lysine and soybean meal levels also must be increased. This increases the requirement for other amino acid additions.

Also, if justified economically, higher levels of synthetic lysine, threonine and methionine could be used before another amino acid becomes limiting.

Certainly, other ingredients also could be used in the diets if determined to be economical.

For these example diets, the feed budget is lower for the 5% fat diets to account for the reduced feed needs with the higher energy diets.

Click the image to view a larger version

Iowa State Swine Disease Conference

The 14th annual Swine Disease Conference for Swine Practitioners is scheduled for Nov. 9-10 at the Scheman Building on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, IA.

Among this year's program highlights are sessions on porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, sow longevity, breeding herd lameness and structural soundness, swine influenza virus and porcine circovirus-associated disease.

Register online at or fax (515) 294-6223.

Research Awards Announced

Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. (BIVI) announces the first recipients of its annual research award program for porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD).

The $75,000 PCVAD research awards will fund three research studies designed to improve the industry's understanding and management of this emerging disease complex.

The three award recipients were announced at the Leman Swine Conference in St. Paul:

  • Darwin Reicks, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, MN: The effect of porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) vaccine on the prevalence and detection of PCV2 in serum, blood swab and semen in adult boars.

  • Tanja Opriessnig, DVM, Iowa State University: Comparison of different PCV2 antibody ELISA assays and detection of PCV2-specific antibodies after vaccination or after infection with distinct PCV2 isolates.

  • Opriessnig: Characterization and comparison of the immune response to PCV2 in pigs from different genetic origin.

BIVI also announced it is seeking research study proposals to investigate porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

In its fifth year, BIVI will provide three, $25,000 grants through its 2007 Advancement in PRRS Research Awards program. Winners are announced at the American Association of Swine Veterinarians annual meeting in March.

Proposals for a year-long project should be submitted by Jan. 1, 2007, with a cover sheet, Curriculum Vitae and two letters of recommendation to: Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., Attn: Trudy Luther, “The Advanced PRRS Research Award,” 5506 Corporate Dr., Suite 1600, St. Joseph, MO 64507-7752. For more information, go to

NPPC Hails Senate OK of Price Reporting Law

The National Pork Producers Council has applauded the U.S. Senate for reauthorizing the law requiring meat packers to report the prices they pay producers for animals.

Senators unanimously approved a five-year reauthorization of the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act of 1999. The House of Representatives passed an identical bill last September. The law expired Sept. 30, 2005.

“Pork producers are extremely grateful to the Senate for taking action on this important legislation,” says NPPC President Joy Philippi, a Bruning, NE, pork producer. “The mandatory price reporting law is an important tool that helps producers make business and production decisions.”

The legislation includes three enhancements to the price reporting provisions:

  • Adding more sows to the pricing reports to more accurately reflect the sales and prices paid in the sow market.

  • Changing the timing for data reporting to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ease its workload to help increase report accuracy and efficiency.

  • Allowing USDA to publish price distributions for net prices to provide more useful information, while still maintaining the current confidentiality requirements.

Housing Decisions For the Growing Pig

In today's production systems, facility utilization during the grower stage often takes a back seat to maintaining all-in, all-out pig flows.

At one time, it was fairly easy to define the stage of production related to the growing pig.

In the mid-'70s, many producers had separate nursery, growing and finishing facilities. These were often managed as continuous-flow production units.

The advantage of this type of facility flow was that it maximized space utilization. Each facility was generally full (or overfilled), with stocking density based on final weight of the pigs.

Space Allocation

In today's high-health production systems, facility utilization during the growing stage often takes a back seat to maintaining all-in, all-out pig flows.

However, in nursery-finisher pig flows, facility utilization remains an issue for the nursery phase.

In a recent review of space allocation trials for nursery pigs, Harold Gonyou from the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatchewan, Canada, and others determined that the space requirement for the nursery and growing pig that resulted in maximum daily gain and daily feed intake was defined by the following equation:

Area (in sq. ft./pig) = 0.217 × BW.667, where BW or bodyweight is in pounds.

In general, this equation means that for each 3% reduction in space allocation, there is a corresponding 1% reduction in overall daily gain and feed intake in fully slotted-floor facilities (See Table 1, page 22).

While many nursery units “plan” for 3 sq. ft./pig, in reality, the actual space allocation varies considerably, depending on output from the farrowing facility, and the final weight of the pigs prior to being removed and relocated to finishing facilities.

Wean-to-Finish vs. Nursery-Finisher Systems

Are there differences in performance for pigs housed in nurseries and finishers vs. pigs raised in wean-to-finish facilities?

If the pig's needs are provided for in both types of production facilities, there is no reported difference in performance.

However, it was quite common in the mid-1990s, when wean-to-finish technology was being developed, for proponents of wean-to-finish systems to suggest a major improvement in average daily gain for wean-to-finish-housed pigs vs. pigs housed in nursery and finisher facilities.

In research trials where the feeder type, feeder space, drinkers, etc. were the same between nursery and finishing facilities and wean-to-finish facilities, there has been no recorded difference in pig performance.

In actual production systems, differences between these two types of facilities are often cited for the reported differences in performance.

For example, when wean-to-finish facilities are double-stocked (with twice as many pigs per pen as there will be during the finishing stage), it is not uncommon to expect a 0.10 lb./day reduction in average daily gain compared to pigs at standard stocking rates in nursery facilities.

One of the main reasons for this decrease in early wean-to-finish performance appears to be a reduction in feeder and drinker space per pig and the impact of group size, especially in small-pen facilities that house from 25 to 50 pigs/pen.

Deciding What to Build

Should you build a nursery and multiple finishers, or should you consider a wean-to-finish production system?

The answer depends in part on your current production facilities, and how the new facilities would impact pig flow.

However, let's use an example to demonstrate how some producers have thought outside the box to remain competitive.

It costs approximately $140/pig space to build a nursery today, with pig space defined as 3 sq. ft./pig. Wean-to-finish facilities cost an estimated $225-240/pig space, with pig space defined as 7.5 sq. ft./pig.

When double-stocked and used as a nursery facility, wean-to-finish facilities have a capital cost of $112-120/pig space, with pig space defined as 3.75 sq. ft./pig. In contract situations, if the contract has ended, the space can be used as a wean-to-finish or finishing facility. This makes it more acceptable to lenders, since the risk associated with future use is reduced.

The challenge with this situation is the large group sizes that are required to flow a double-stocked, wean-to-finish room and barn site on an all-in, all-out production basis.

Heat Relief

Data suggests that the growing pig of today, compared to its predecessor of 20 years ago, generates higher levels of heat production (Table 2). Scientists have known for a number of years that deposition of lean releases more heat than deposition of fat.

With the pork industry making great strides in increasing the rate of lean growth and decreasing the rate of fat deposition, it is easy to understand why this situation is occurring. This has tremendous implications in our expectations for a ventilation system.

With greater heat output, ventilation systems during the growing stage of the pig are more likely to be operating in the heat relief mode vs. the minimum ventilation mode.

This increase in heat output of the pig also fits quite nicely with the industry's growing adoption of wean-to-finish facilities.

The excellent growth of pigs in many wean-to-finish facilities also suggests that heat relief should become a higher priority for the late nursery phase of production in conventional nursery facilities.

While the industry routinely utilizes drippers and misting systems for evaporative cooling for finishing hogs, it has been slow to recognize that growing pigs also suffer depressions in performance due to hot weather.

It is not uncommon in the Upper Midwest to have swine nursery and grower units experiencing temperatures in the pig zone in the upper '90s for many days during June, July, August and early September. The lower critical temperature for the 50-lb. pig is thought to be in the range of about 70° F.

Research data suggests that when the temperature in the pig zone is above 85° F, the growing pig begins to adapt its behavior to reduce the impact of heat on its well-being. This adaptation includes a reduction in feed intake, fouling of partially slotted pens, increased respiration rates, and modification of eating habits and drinking patterns.

The recommendation for 50-lb. pigs is that ventilation rates be maximized when the temperature reaches 85° F. The Midwest Plan Service recommends that the ventilation rate be set at 35 cfm/pig for pigs from 30 to 75 lb., and at 75 cfm/pig for pigs from 75 to 150 lb. in hot weather. Drafts in the pig zone are encouraged to provide heat relief.

To achieve the benefits of evaporative cooling, the recommendation is to wet the pigs and then allow them to dry. A good starting point for 50-lb. pigs is a set point of 85° F, a 2-3 minute on-time and a 20 minute drying period. A flood-type nozzle vs. a misting nozzle is recommended. The goal is to wet the pigs and allow the water to evaporate, rather than to evaporate the water in the air as is typical when a misting nozzle is used.

Plan on covering no more than 50-70% of the pen area with the wetting device. This keeps water out of the feeder and allows pigs to choose whether to be wet or not.

A good tool for determining whether evaporative cooling is needed is to closely examine the pigs when temperatures in the pig zone are 85° F or higher. If a majority of the pigs are lying on their sides with elevated respiration rates, this is an indication of heat stress.

A normal pig's respiration rate is approximately 20-30 breaths/minute. Anything over 40 breaths/minute is an indication that the pig has adopted panting as a means to increase heat transfer from the lungs, and serves as a sign that feed intake will be depressed.

Winter Temperature Management

Consider the use of reduced nocturnal temperatures in nursery and grower facilities. There is an abundance of data that suggests the pig prefers a cooler nighttime temperature.

In experiments where pigs were able to select the temperature of their sleeping area, they generally indicated a preference for a reduced temperature beginning around 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., with a preference for warmer temperatures beginning around 3 a.m. to 5 a.m.

In research conducted at the University of Nebraska in the 1980s, when the nighttime furnace setting was reduced 10° F from the recommended daytime setting beginning one week after weaning (Figure 1), nursery pigs showed a 6% improvement in average daily gain and a 15% savings in propane expense in winter trials.

Note that in the trials depicted in Figure 1, only the furnace setting was altered. The set point for when the ventilation fans would increase was not changed. There were two thermostats installed for the furnaces. Selection of a thermostat to control the furnace (and room temperature) from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., was done using a time clock.

If this research data on reduced nocturnal temperatures has been available for a least 20 years, why hasn't it been widely adopted by the swine industry? The main reasons appear to have been skepticism by producers and use of electronic ventilation controllers.

Today, just about every swine facility in the United States utilizes an electronic controller of some type to control the heating system and ventilation fans. In most controllers, the fans and furnaces are controlled at a temperature set point that is relative to the “set point” of the controller.

Thus, if the set point is reduced so that the furnace comes on at a lower temperature, this also means that the ventilation fans begin operating at lower temperatures.

While it appears that the new generation of ventilation controllers may have the ability to incorporate reduced temperature programming for nighttime conditions into their control logic, this is not the case for the majority of the controllers installed.

For those willing to try reduced nocturnal temperatures as a means to stimulate feed intake, increase average daily gain and reduce propane expenditures, it can be done manually using the controllers.

On most controllers, the furnace is controlled by means of an offset setting and differential setting. For the furnace to run, the temperature must decline an amount equal to both the offset and differential settings. The furnace turns off when the controller detects an increase in temperature equal to the differential. The purpose of the offset is to allow for the continued warming of air in the vicinity of the temperature probe following shutdown of the furnace.

In small rooms with large-capacity furnaces, this overshoot of temperature settings can be by several degrees. Rather than reducing the set point (which influences all of the set points for both fans and furnaces on most controllers), it is recommended that producers reset the furnace offset.

For reduced nocturnal temperatures, only the offset has to be changed, often from a setting of 2 to 12° F. It is recommended that the offset be reduced by 10° F from 5-7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

In addition, to be successful, don't begin reducing temperatures until the pigs are eating aggressively, generally five or more days after weaning. If pigs are sick or otherwise appear to be doing poorly, don't be afraid to return to a constant temperature setting.

However, continue to reduce air temperature in the pig zone 3-4 °F/week (0.5 °F/day) until pigs are 50 lb. or so in weight.

Sick Pens

Pigs are moved to sick pens due to slow growth, injury or illness to receive supportive care and supervision to speed their recovery.

Sick pens should provide an improved environment conducive to reducing drafts and/or frequent temperature fluctuations. The area should include a mat or heat lamp to modify the temperature in the pig zone.

Sick pens should also offer access to feed and water in a non-competitive environment.

All of these modifications highlight the main purpose of a sick pen — to provide a living area that maximizes the sick or injured pig's chance of recovery.

Sick pens also require decision-making skills. If pigs aren't on the road to recovery after a specified time period (generally 3-5 days), the decision should often be made to euthanize them.

The decision to euthanize, while never an easy one, is a humane and welfare-friendly response to a condition that clearly compromises the pig's well-being.

The Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP) of the National Pork Board suggests that a minimum standard of 5% of all deaths in a facility should be recorded as euthanasia, with 20% as the standard.


The growing pig is often the forgotten stage in critical management decisions. One day it is considered a “nursery” pig and the next day it is a “finisher.”

Rather than adopting a transition management strategy for temperature and space management that acknowledges the needs of the growing pig, all too often the strategy seems to be focused on the extremes, such as the idea that a nursery pig doesn't need heat relief.

As demonstrated in this discussion, there are still plenty of opportunities to improve the performance of the growing pig, while at the same time reducing the net cost to attain that optimum level of performance.

Table 1. Space Allocation Predicted to Have No Impact on Average Daily Gain
Pig Weight, lb. Space, sq. ft./pig
40 2.5
45 2.7
50 2.9
55 3.1
60 3.3
65 3.5
100 4.7
125 5.4
Table 2. Estimated Heat Production by Growing Pigs1
Pig Weight, lb. Pre-1988 Post-1988
44 294 308
66 369 397
88 434 474
110 492 544
132 544 610
1Data from Brown-Brandl, et al (2004).

Early Finishing Management Affects Closeouts

Achieving good production numbers requires managing young pigs as soon as they hit the finishing floor.

As pork producers, we all would like to sit around with our peers and brag about good production closeout numbers for finishing: 2.6 feed conversion, 2 lb./day average daily gain and less than 2% mortality.

But in order to brag about good production numbers, we must be able to continuously achieve them — and that requires managing those young pigs as soon as they hit the finishing floor.

Old Production Model

Under the old production model, there was often a lag period from when we evaluated finishing closeout numbers to when the group actually closed. This caused important details to be lost over time.

It is a very similar situation to driving down a road and waiting until you become completely lost before stopping to read the map.

We could ask several questions about problems with finishing performance:

  • Why was feed efficiency so bad?

  • Why was growth rate so slow?

  • Why was death loss so high and when did these deaths occur?

  • Were there barn factors that drove the numbers?

  • Were there people factors that drove the poor numbers?

Too often, the questions were asked too late to find good answers.

New Production Model

Under the new production model, the factors that drive productive group closeouts must be thoroughly understood. This understanding will clearly lead us to early finishing management of the pig and its environment. We need to be able to react in “real time” to problems that develop, and work to prevent problems by planning ahead.

In the new system, summarizing closeout data and immediately reviewing the factors that drove the numbers are critical steps to making sure the next group performs better.

In today's world of technology and real-time communication, the good news is that there are many record-keeping systems that allow us to analyze finishing groups in a real-time manner. We can look at daily or weekly mortality records, evaluate feed intake weekly, understand which groups are receiving antibiotics, and know how many daily/weekly injections of antibiotics are being given to the group.

Production Drivers

It is extremely important to understand that in order to achieve solid production numbers, the top 10 production drivers (see above) must be followed. They are like the interrelated links of a common chain pulling in the same direction.

If all factors are focused on and performed well, the combined effect can and will produce powerful outcomes.

A producer running a finishing system cannot pick one or two things to do extremely well, ignore other key factors and expect to get good production numbers.

Let's review the factors of early finishing care management that help drive good production numbers.

Good Sow Farm Health

When placing a 50-lb. pig in a finisher, it is sometimes hard to remember that this animal entered the production system with a sow being bred almost 200 days ago.

Health stability on the sow farm creates uniform output flow, larger and thriftier pigs at weaning, as well as less disease transmitted from the sow to the piglet to be carried off into the production system.

Clearly, it is beyond the scope of this article to review the factors that create proper sow farm health, but we must be aware that it is difficult to have good finishing numbers without good sow farm health to start with.

Quality Finishing Management

I often hear: “If you want me to get good finishing numbers, give me good pigs.”

This is certainly a true statement.However, as this review will illustrate, there are many factors that can turn good pigs into average pigs by improper early finishing management.

We must deal with all types of pigs that enter the finishing system, and be prepared to make them perform the best that we possibly can.

The most important reason for limiting the number of pig sources is to limit the number of disease pathogens that enter the finishing flow.

In addition, immunity levels between piglets will vary from source to source depending on exposure of the sows and, therefore, exposure of the piglets during the farrowing and nursery periods. Without exception, pigs in an individual finishing barn should be comprised of pigs that come from one nursery building.

Quality Daily Chores

To achieve quality daily chores, the producer must meet the individual needs of each pig in the barn on a daily basis. This includes feed, water, air and health management.

The first and most important point to remember is — it is impossible to perform quality daily chores without being in the barn. Being in the finishing barn and focused on chores for a morning and an afternoon walk-through is critical.

The morning walk-through is usually the more thorough, during which each individual pig should be carefully observed. The afternoon walk-through can be a quick visual observation to check for major problems in feed, water or ventilation areas.

Chores can be broken down into observations at the barn level, the pen level and the pig level.

At the barn level, it is important to step into the barn and spend a few seconds understanding what the barn is telling you. Let your observational skills go to work. What is the temperature? What is the humidity? Is the ventilation system working? Are the curtains operational? Is the feed system working? Are there abnormal noises? Are there abnormal smells?

At the pen level, be sure to check for individual items within the pen that affect pig production. Is there feed in the feeder? Is the feeder adjusted correctly? Is the water flow adequate? How are the pigs lying within the pen? Are pen floors wet? Is diarrhea present?

At the pig level, instead of seeing a sea of pigs, teach yourself to see every individual pig. It does not matter if there are 200 pigs or 2,000 pigs in the barn. Each pig must be observed. This process does not take long.

When looking at each pig, note posture, position in the pen, respiration rate, attitude and even facial expression. You can easily learn to systematically start from the pig's head and work back to the pig's butt, so nothing is missed.

Initially, you think this process is going to take an unreasonable amount of time. However, I am quite confident that most individuals can walk a 1,000-head finishing barn, under normal disease conditions, and accomplish all of these evaluations in approximately one hour.

Individual Animal Treatments

There are two important points to remember regarding individual animal treatments:

  1. Rate of success is much greater if sick animals are identified in the early stages of a disease. This is very intuitive, yet often not put into good barn practice.

  2. Early treatment of infectious disease can limit the spread of pathogens throughout the herd, and affect the disease level of the entire barn, not just the treated individuals. You can't find sick pigs early without looking at each pig every day.

A system of quality chores allows you to find the sick pig early, get a good individual treatment response, and have an impact on the overall disease experience in the barn by keeping pathogen levels below critical thresholds.

I often hear: “It does no good to treat individual pigs because few recover.” To me, this comment should be translated into, “By the time I get the pig treated, it is too sick to get better.”

Disease transmission through a finishing barn can be much like exponential mathematics. Growth of bacteria or growth of human population can be graphed as shown in Figure 1 (page 7). Getting sick pigs treated early when clinical signs are minimal may influence the later phase of rapidly increasing numbers of sick pigs in the barn (similar to population growth after 1800, as compared to before 1800, as illustrated in Figure 1).

Often, the use of injectable antibiotics is overlooked as a strategy for combating disease and reducing pathogen spread in the case of individual pen and herd treatments.

Ventilation Management

There should be a written plan for ventilation management of finishing barns. Following up to make sure this plan is drafted is extremely important.

When the truck is backed up to the barn and ready to unload the next set of pigs, it is critical that the barn ventilation system is ready to receive the pigs.

Make sure:

  • The controller is reset to meet minimum ventilation requirements.

  • Pig temperature requirements are determined based on size and health.

  • All fans are clean and completely operational.

  • All building curtains are functional, level and without holes.

  • The curtain drops are fully operational.

  • All air inlets are working, clean and open.

  • The heaters are set correctly on the controller and prepared to operate.

  • Backup thermometers are reset to meet new group needs.

  • Soffit attic inlets are clean and open.

  • Alarms are set and tested.

The critical component to early finishing barn management is that a ventilation plan is reviewed and the barn is set up correctly to meet the immediate needs of the incoming group.

Arrival time is a critical stress point in the life of a pig. Correcting ventilation settings after the group has been placed in the finishing barn for several days can have serious consequences.

Water Flow and Quality

During the downtime between finishing groups, when the barn is being washed, cleaned and disinfected, make sure the water cups get rinsed out and thoroughly dried. Any moist surface is a candidate for bacteria and viruses to persist and infect the next set of pigs.

Prior to pigs arriving, each individual water cup should be checked for flow, and rinsed out and filled with clean, fresh water. Flow rate is critical as it affects the pigs' ability to consume the correct amount of water each day.

If flow rate is too high, it can lead to overfilling of the manure management system. Most of the time, 1 quart/minute adequately meets the needs of the pigs and the barn.

The common problem I see in finishing barns is that there are 40-50 water delivery cups per barn, and there is tremendous variation between units because not every cup is checked prior to entry.

Feed Quality, Flowability

It sounds like such a simple statement that pigs need feed in order to grow, but it is common to see empty feeders when walking finishing barns.

In today's production systems, since many finishing barns are not on the “home farm,” it is not as easy to hear the feed system running empty.

Evaluate the feed system to make sure it is in good repair, and evaluate feed quality to make sure feed flowability is achieved. This is extremely critical when dealing with feeders that hold a small amount of a pig's daily feed intake.

Health Management Plan

Working closely with your veterinarian and doing your homework allows a thorough understanding of disease risks so prevention strategies can be put in place. These may include:

  • Sow farm health strategies;
  • Pig flow alterations;
  • Vaccine options;
  • Antibiotic choices; and
  • Feedgrade antibiotic protocols.

Prevention is always a better option than treatment.

Arrival Strategy

In addition to having the feed, water and ventilation systems ready when pigs arrive, it is important that the barn is ready. This means the barn is clean, disinfected, dried and that repairs are completed.

When pigs come to the barn, they should “gate cut” into individual pens, allowing for individual pig variation within each pen. Sick or disadvantaged pigs should be sorted off and placed into hospital pens. The hospital pens should be in the warmest area of the barn with inlets adjusted so drafts are minimized.


The truck ride from the nursery to the finishing barn is actually the first section of the finishing turn. It is critical to ensure that the truck ride is evaluated on a regular basis and adjustments for outside temperatures are made to the truck. Take the time to note the condition of the pigs as they exit the truck to see if they are chilled or overheated.

Manure Pit Management

This is included in the management list because it can affect air quality in the barn, fly populations, and ventilation quality in August and September prior to pits being pumped in the fall.

Making sure there are no full pits in the fall takes year 'round planning. As noted above, water flow should be monitored throughout the year. Monitor the pit pumping to make sure that all manure is removed and agitation strategies remove the crust so that fly populations do not become excessive.


Think through, evaluate and plan how implementation of each production and management step listed above can be accomplished. It is much more critical that all steps get implemented well rather than implementing one or two steps extremely well.

As a veterinarian, I am biased toward disease. Yet I know that it is difficult, if not impossible, to have a quality finishing turn without managing and minimizing the effects of infectious disease.

Early disease intervention is critical to the success of pig recovery and health maintenance of the overall group. Quality chores and rapid individual pig treatment are key parts of this program.

It is obvious to me that the producers who can brag about 2.6 feed efficiencies, 2.0 lb./day average daily gains and fewer than 2% mortalities are those who manage and execute the strategies outlined above on a daily basis.

Top 10 Production Drivers

Eisenmenger's top 10 factors that drive good closeout production numbers:

  1. Develop good sow farm health and quality nursery turns with limited number of sources and fast fill times;

  2. Follow all-in, all-out finishing production, keeping groups in a narrow age range and quick fill times;

  3. Perform quality daily chores;

  4. Implement an arrival pig strategy program;

  5. Maintain a ventilation management plan;

  6. Provide easily available, quality water with correct flow rates;

  7. Maintain consistent feed quality and flowability;

  8. Follow a solid health management plan;

  9. Analyze trucking patterns of pigs in and out of finishing; and

  10. Implement a manure pit management plan.