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Articles from 2007 In November

Worst of Fall Hog Prices May Be Over

The Thanksgiving holiday usually marks (or is at least very close to) the seasonal low in hog prices. Cash hog strength this week definitely suggests that may be the case this year, in spite of a Thanksgiving week slaughter total that, even with a day off, still tallied more than two million head.

Figure 1 shows weekly national net negotiated prices. That price series has reached its lowest point since January 2004 when prices were coming off the fall 2003 lows. But it has strengthened this week so we may have seen the worst of hog prices for this fall.

One of the real benchmarks that I have been watching as we progressed through these big slaughter weeks was the November Cold Storage report, since it would be the first real measure of how we were handling the large supplies of October. That report was released just before Thanksgiving and indicated only a slight increase in pork inventories.

Figure 2 shows the monthly cold storage levels for the four major species and their respective totals. Note that total meat inventories are still lower than one month ago (2%) and one year ago (-1.2%). The decline is still being driven by much lower chicken inventories (-8%), while stocks of other species are up slightly -- a remarkable result given that October pork, beef and chicken production were 11%, 9.7% and 3.6% higher, respectively, than one year ago.

Canada's Financial Difficulties
We have mentioned several times the financial difficulties that Canadian producers are now facing. Those circumstances are definitely serious and show no signs of lessening any time soon. Note in our Price and Production Summary the status of hog prices in Canada and the change from one year ago -- only Alberta prices are within 25% of the level that they were at the same week last year.

One result of these difficult financial times is a surge of pig exports to the United States. In fact, imports of both feeder pigs and market hogs set records the week of Nov. 10. Year-to-date increases for feeder pigs and market hog categories now amount to 9.4% and 20.8%, respectively. Imports of cull sows and boars are up only 1.1% year-to-date.

Dumping Case Against Canada?
These hog import levels from Canada clearly exceed those that existed in late 2003 and in early 2004, when U.S. pork producers filed an anti-dumping case on Canada alleging hogs were being illegally dumped into the U.S. market. There is considerable concern in Canada that U.S. producers may file another case given the number of pigs coming south, and the fact that they are indeed being sold below the cost of production.

The situation, though, is fundamentally different now. Back in 2003-04, Canada's industry had been growing for 10 years while the U.S. industry had been contracting. U.S. producers had seen several years of losses, while the extent of losses that had occurred in Canada had been much smaller due to a favorable exchange rate. That all made for a volatile combination that prompted the U.S. action. And also recall that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission agreed with the charge of dumping, but concluded that U.S. producers had not been damaged -- mainly due to improved market conditions in 2004.

There has not been much talk in the United States about Canadian imports, and a possible trade case, but there is one factor that could change that quickly: significant payments by Canada's federal or provincial governments to keep producers in business. U.S. producers would view those payments, as well as payments made under Canada's income stabilization program, very negatively, since they would cause the Canadian industry to respond more slowly and to a lesser degree than market conditions alone would dictate.

Pricing Opportunities for 2008
Finally -- a nice rally in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Lean Hog futures prices is providing another opportunity for pricing pigs in 2008. Fundamental analysis (comparing supply and demand information) does not suggest prices nearly as high as those appearing on the futures market at the present time. It's another time when producers need to look long and hard at what these prices mean for their operations. The 2008 contracts average about $68 carcass ($51 live) at present -- probably breakeven or better for many producers. And that may not be a bad result for 2008!

Click to view graphs.

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

Iowa State Releases Pig Genetic Marker Technology

Genetic markers for growth, leanness and meat quality discovered at Iowa State University (ISU) have been made available to pork producers in the United States.

“This offers a unique opportunity to use molecular genetics to improve pigs’ growth, leanness, feed conversion and meat quality for all breeds typically seen in the United States,” says Max Rothschild, C.F. Curtis Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and director of the Center for Integrated Animal Genomics at ISU..

The Iowa State University Research Foundation has signed a licensing agreement with GeneSeek, Inc. of Lincoln, NE. The license permits GeneSeek to use the technologies as markers to identify hogs that have the potential to improve economics of hog producers operations’ and enhance pork quality for the consumer.

Those markers offer:

  • MC4R controls growth and leanness. The producer and breeder can choose the “fast” growth form of the gene, cutting three days off the time it takes a pig to reach market weight, or the “lean/efficient growth” form of the gene, reducing the pig’s backfat and the amount of feed it eats.
  • PRKAG3 controls meat composition. Producers and breeders can select for animals having a high pH, improving quality and offering better meat color.
  • CAST affects meat tenderness and quality. Producers can test and select those animals that are likely to produce more tender meat and improved meat quality.
  • HMGA1 is highly associated with backfat and lean growth. Producers can test and select animals that are likely to be leaner and produce offspring that are leaner.

    These genes are best used in combination, explains Rothschild. Use of all four would benefit overall line development for improved growth, leanness and meat quality.

    A combination of MC4R and HMGA1 could be used for growth and backfat improvement only, or MC4R and HMGA1 could be used together for significant leanness in breeding stock.

    Finally, PRKAG3 and CAST could be used together to improve meat quality.

    Rothschild advises producers and breeders to work together to develop the best multi-gene combination for their herds.

Canadian Government Bails Out Producers with Circovirus Losses

The Canadian government launched the Circovirus Inoculation Program (CIP) on Nov. 15 to help pork producers affected by disease-associated mortality losses.

“We are committed to helping Canadian hog producers combat disease and increase profitability in the hog sector,” says Christian Paradis, secretary of state. “That is why we are committing immediate financial assistance of $25 million to producers to test and vaccinate hogs in Canada and will continue to work with industry to ensure the long-term viability of the sector.”

Earlier, the Canadian government announced the availability of $76 million over four years to combat disease and enhance prosperity and stability in the hog sector.

CIP is the first phase of this overall initiative that allows farmers to be reimbursed up to 50% for diagnostic testing and vaccination of hogs exposed to porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD).

The four-year assistance program covers four areas: vaccination, research, biosecurity and development of best management practices.

Application forms for CIP are being mailed to all Canadian pork producers identified through industry and government client lists.
The deadline to apply for CIP assistance is Dec. 31, 2008.

For more information on the CIP, producers can call the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada toll-free line at (800) 667-8567, go online at or e-mail

Pork Exports' Remarkable Rebound

It's big news (at least for people who follow NASCAR) when Jimmy Johnson spots Jeff Gordon a big lead and then wins four in a row to reel him in and put himself on the cusp of his second straight championship. Even the non-NASCAR person can appreciate the tenacity and dedication it takes to get that done -- or should I say: "get 'er duuuuun!"?

The comeback of U.S. pork exports will probably never make such headlines -- but it's been no less remarkable. Whether the U.S. pork industry can overcome the final obstacles to set a 16th straight record remains to be seen, but the performance of the past few months and the economic forces now at work suggest that it will happen.

Figures 1 through 4 show year-to-date performance through September for pork and pork variety meats in terms of both quantities and values. The quantity graphs represent actual product weights. In order to put some space between the lines for the smaller markets, I have changed the formats of these graphs to use the left-hand axis for the world total and the right-hand axis for the individual country numbers.

Some important details from the graphs and the September data released by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service last week are:

  • Pork exports in September were 8% larger than last year. China led the September year-over-year growth in both tonnage (+4,521 tons) and percentage (+154.2%). The combination of China and Hong Kong took pork muscle meat product shipments that were 157% larger than one year ago and were actually our third-largest market (behind Japan and Canada) in September. Shipments to Japan were 2,307 tons (8.6%) larger this year. Taiwan (-65.8%), Mexico (-35.7%) and Korea (-28.6%) saw the largest declines in September shipments.

  • The value of pork exports in September 2007 was 10% larger than last year. China was once again the leader with the value of shipments nearly tripling over one year ago. The combined value of shipments to Hong Kong and China was 223% of the level of last September.

  • Pork variety meat exports were 6% larger than one year earlier in September. China (+176%) and Hong Kong (+150%) were again the growth leaders. Mexico remains our largest market for pork variety meats, though shipments there were 9.2% lower in September and are 16% lower year-to-date (YTD).

  • The value of variety meat exports was larger than one year ago, but the gain was not as large relative to quantity growth as was that for pork muscle cuts. Variety meat export value grew by 6.1% in September vs. one year ago and the growth was led by China and Hong Kong. A decline of 12.1% in the value of variety meat exports to Mexico underscores, I think, the difficulties we have had there this year. Not only were our shipments reduced, but so were the prices at which those shipments were made.
The graphs show year-to-date data for all of our leading markets. It is obvious that China-Hong Kong has been the big positive this year while Mexico and, to a lesser degree, Korea, Taiwan and Canada, have been disappointing. While quantities have been lower, the value of exports has been consistently higher than last year and, as I have pointed out before, it is value that eventually drives hog demand.

Readers should note how much ground we have made up over the past few months. For January-July, pork exports were down 4.9% from last year and the value of those exports was up only 4.7%. Those numbers improved in August to -3.3% and +5.9%, respectively. The January-September data have them at -2.2% and +6.3%.

I think the numbers will continue to grow and will both end up positive by year's end. Record-large slaughter, lower wholesale prices and a dollar that continues to weaken all suggest that foreign buyers should be very interested in U.S. pork. Those factors should drive quantities higher, but don't expect value growth to keep pace. Value growth slowed notably in September and may actually stop as we get into the fall months. But it will still be up for the year when Dec. 31 rolls around. And, the lower prices that cause value growth to slow will help volume growth set another record.

Canada's pork exports, through August, are 3.6% lower than one year ago. Mexico is the big negative for Canada. Australia and New Zealand are the big growth markets for Canada thus far in 2007. Interestingly, Canadian shipments to China were down 3.5% at the end of May, but were up 15.6% YTD by the end of August. China's tying of their currency, the yuan, to the U.S. dollar puts Canada at a disadvantage in the Chinese market.

Click to view graphs.

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

Disinfectant Chambers Improve Biosecurity

A small room devoted to disinfecting all supplies brought into a production facility can help avoid the inadvertent introduction of pathogens.

At the close of Carthage Veterinary Service's annual swine conference the end of August, Joe Connor, DVM, traditionally offers a few of the best ideas he's seen and heard about in his many travels.

This year, one of the ideas Connor gave kudos to was a disinfectant chamber used to improve biosecurity in swine facilities.

Research has shown that the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus can be introduced to facilities through contaminated fomites - inanimate objects such as equipment, boots and other supplies, he explains. To help avoid the risk of introducing PRRS and other pathogens, Connor recommends that producers disinfect all supplies entering any production facility.

A disinfectant chamber consists of a self-contained room equipped with an exhaust fan, and of adequate size to handle all of the items entering the facility, including bulky items like bagged feeds or medications. The room must be able to be sealed during, and immediately after, fumigation.

Many new facilities are being designed with disinfectant chambers to make fogging incoming supplies more convenient. In existing facilities, disinfectant chambers can often be retrofitted into an existing office, workroom or a seldom-used hallway.

“Locate the chamber so it is convenient for unloading supplies and equipment from delivery vehicles, and for moving items into storage or an inventory room in the facility,” says Connor.

Ideally, the disinfectant chamber will serve as the unloading dock/receiving area. Shelving should be installed near the exterior door so the delivery persons do not have to step inside to transfer supplies into the disinfectant chamber.

Open shelving, such as wire mesh or grating, works best because it allows for more direct contact with the fogging disinfectant. Be sure there is enough shelving so objects can be spread out, allowing disinfectant to come in contact with all surfaces. It is also helpful to have a drain in the disinfectant chamber for periodic cleaning to remove film buildup after repeated fogging, he adds.

Barn personnel should be in charge of the fogging or fumigation. Connor recommends using an insect fogger and a sanitation agent known to be effective against the PRRS virus, such as Synergize (Preserve International), a combination of 26% alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride and 7% glutaraldehyde.

A timer is needed to assure the process provides for thorough coverage during fogging and adequate wait time afterwards.

“The duration of fogging should be based on the manufacturer's recommendations,” says Connor. “With Synergize, fogging occurs for 10 minutes and then the chamber is closed for an additional 10 minutes.”

During the wait time, producers should exit the room, leaving the chamber door closed with the exhaust fan off. After the 10-minute period, the door should be opened and the exhaust fan turned on for an additional 10 minutes to clear the air. Supplies are then ready to be transferred into their proper storage locations.

All incoming supplies, including personal items, should be disinfected. “Lunches, too, but they should be contained in tightly sealed lunch boxes or coolers,” says Connor.

“Proper disinfectant of incoming supplies dramatically reduces the risk of introduction of PRRS and other diseases via fomites,” Connor reinforces.

Connor says the following list of supplies for a disinfectant chamber can be purchased for less than $1,000:

  • Open shelving, such as wire mesh or grating
  • Insect fogger
  • Disinfectant
  • Timer
  • Exhaust fan
  • Sealant strips for doors.

Large Water Medicator

A new water medicator handles even the largest finishing barns.

Dosatron International, Inc. has introduced the new D25F water medicator to accommodate larger barns and bigger pigs. The D25F handles even the largest finishing barns. This unit provides a maximum flow rate of up to 11 gal./minute (gpm) with even slower piston speeds when compared to a 7 gpm medicator. This allows the medicator to work smoother and easier in the larger barns, adding to the life of the unit. The D25F also offers lower flow rates starting at 0.05 gpm to handle the nurseries. The water medicator operates through a pressure range of 4.3 lb./sq. in. (psi) up to 85 psi. The new, lower check valve eliminates bottom seal failure, ensuring less downtime and eliminating any “spit back.” The unit offers 57% more capacity than the 7 gpm model it replaces, no top or bottom seals to maintain, fewer parts and longer life. For more information, call (800) 523-8499, e-mail or visit their Web site,

Farm Program Software

Farm Works Software has announced a new edition to their software program - Farm Sync, which allows farmers to download or upload field records from a mobile device using a wireless network. Farm Works' mobile solutions simplify entering records with quick drop-down lists of names for fields, equipment, personnel and supplies. Other jobs for mapping field boundaries, soil sample locations, tile lines, etc., can be done using GPS. Once entered, data is coordinated to your office computer via Farm Sync. In order to boost your wireless range, antennas can be purchased to extend the range another 1,000 ft. or more. Learn more at (800) 225-2848 or log on to

Skid-Steer Loader

Bobcat Company has recently launched the S100 skid-steer loader as the newest model to its line of compact equipment. The S100 replaces the Bobcat 553 skid-steer loader. The S100 features a 1,000-lb.-rated operating capacity and a 50-in. narrow width. The loader features a new, deluxe cab and a totally new instrument panel, providing additional functionalities and state-of-the art diagnostic capabilities at the operator's fingertips. The S100 also features a four-cylinder, 33.5-hp diesel engine and a lift height of 8 ft. 6 in. for loading and dumping materials. Weighing only 4,100 lb. eases transport between work sites. Standard on all Bobcat loaders is the Bob-Tach attachment mounting system that enables operators to switch attachments in less than a minute without extra help or tools. For more information, visit

Feeding Product Line

Feedlogic Corporation has introduced FeedSaver, a new product line designed to reduce production costs and maximize profitability. FeedSaver includes a new feature, which allows rapid adjustments in feeding strategies to manage disease challenges while gaining maximum value from feed ingredients. The FeedSaver computerized feeding system will automatically monitor feed intake and can adjust diets in response to variations in feed intake and growth. With FeedSaver, you can split-sex feed unequal numbers of gilts and barrows in a barn; attend to slow growers with or without sorting; feed each pen of pigs based on a curve to match their performance; target treatments, such as Paylean, more effectively; phase feed sows in lactation to ensure healthier litters and improved sow longevity; prepare gilts more effectively for the breeding herd with more effective nutrition; and adjust the timing, amount and formulation of feed for gestating sows to match body condition and parity. “For large producers and integrators, FeedSaver provides a means to better understand and control their supply chain,” says Drew Ryder, Feedlogic president and founder. For more information, call (320) 222-3000 or e-mail

Send product submissions to Dale Miller, Editor (952) 851-4661;

USDA Releases Fourth National Swine Study

Seventeen states and 2,230 sites participated in the Swine 2006 survey.

USDA's National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) recently published results from the first data collection period regarding swine health and management practices reported for 2006.

Details and two future survey releases will be available online at

The size of the sites surveyed was based on farm inventory of swine: small (fewer than 2,000 head), medium (2,000-4,999) and large (5,000 head-plus).

Findings include:

  • Nearly 79% of sites purchased semen for artificial insemination.

  • Age, reproductive failure and performance accounted for 75.9% of all culled females.

  • The percentage of sites that always isolate new breeding females ranged from 61.1% of large sites to 26.5% of small sites.

  • Fifty percent of large sites tested all breeding females for disease, compared to 29.4% of medium sites and 34.9% of small sites.

  • Vaccine was administered to acclimate new breeding females on 90% of large sites, 75% of medium sites and 60% of small sites.

  • Overall, sites farrowed an average of 11.5 pigs/litter, 10.5 born live and 9.4 pigs weaned/litter. Nearly 70% of pigs were weaned at 16-20 days of age.

  • Death loss was no different in nursery or grow-finish phases. The majority of nursery deaths (44.2%) and grow-finish deaths (61.1%) were due to respiratory problems. Central nervous system/meningitis (18.7%) problems ranked second as a cause of nursery deaths. Gastrointestinal problems such as hemorrhagic bowl syndrome or ileitis-related issues also ranked high as a cause of grow-finish deaths.

  • Most sows farrowed (73.4%), for all sites, were managed all-in, all-out (AIAO) by room.

  • Grow-finish operations were managed AIAO by building on 35% of sites, and AIAO by building for 52.6% of pigs produced.

  • Use of separate sites for farrowing to nursery increased as size of site increased. Overall, 41% of sites moved pigs from farrowing to a separate nursery site. Nearly 50% of sites moved pigs from the nursery to a separate grow-finish site.

  • The percentage of sites that obtained nursery pigs from just one source ranged from 66% of large sites to 89% of small sites. The percentage of sites using three or more sources to obtain nursery pigs ranged from 25.4% of large sites to 4.4% of small sites.

  • A greater percentage of small sites (55%) placed their own nursery pigs into grow-finish than did medium (36.3%) and large sites (43%).

  • For disease prevention, 80% of sites used antibiotics in feed for nursery pigs, compared to 68% of sites for grow-finish pigs. Antibiotics in feed were also used in 60% of sites for piglets before or at weaning.

  • The greatest percentage of sites vaccinated regularly against Mycoplasmal pneumonia and erysipelas (40% and 39%, respectively).

  • Overall, 70% of sites used a swine veterinarian during the last year, in 88% of large sites and 85% of medium-sized sites. Nearly half of large sites used an on-staff veterinarian.

  • Some 81% of sites restricted farm entry to staff. For sites that allowed non-employees to enter the farm, 95% were restricted to business visitors such as an electrician. When business visitors were allowed to enter swine facilities, about one-half of the sites (48.4%) required them to change into clean boots and coveralls before entering; 29.5% of sites required them to wait 24 hours or longer between farm visits, and 10.3% of sites required business visitors to shower before entering the site.

  • Livestock transport has been identified as a vector for swine pathogens. Just over half (51%) of all sites allowed trucks or trailers onto pig premises, with a larger percentage of large and medium sites (61% and 65%, respectively) permitting truck or trailer access than did small sites (46%). Large and medium sites more commonly required cleaning or disinfecting of trucks prior to entering a pig site.

  • More than 80% of all hog sites surveyed were less than three miles apart.

  • Nearly all sites (97%) used some form of rodent control, and 88% used bait or poison to control rodents.

  • When coming into contact with domestic swine, feral swine can transmit diseases such as brucellosis or pseudorabies. Twenty-five percent of large sites reported that feral swine were in their county. Nearly 70% of sites in the south reported that feral swine were in their county. Of producers on sites in counties where feral swine were observed, 16% had seen feral swine within a half-mile of the site during the previous 12 months. Only 14% of producers (sites) reported that feral swine had the potential for physical contact with their pigs.

  • For mortality disposal, nearly half were picked up by a renderer, with a third of carcasses disposed of by composting on-site.

Recycling Plastic Slats

One of the first questions that crops up in any remodeling project is: “What do we do with the old stuff?”

It was a question on Ben Poletti's mind as The Maschhoffs Inc. completed a round of remodeling projects last summer. Then, he noticed recycling crew out collecting materials.

Poletti, director of business development for the Maschhoffs, Carlyle, IL, was in the midst of developing a disposal plan for 26 tons of plastic flooring panels removed from several of the company's nurseries and farrowing rooms.

At first, Poletti assumed the panels could be reused somewhere in the company's production systems. A few panels were used as replacement flooring in other barns, but most of the panels were too worn out.

Dead End

“After about 12 months of looking for an alternative use, we came to a dead end,” Poletti recalls. “But the thought of it going to the landfill didn't sit very well.”

Research into plastics recycling led him to Stan Cope, a plastics specialist at Central Paper Stock (CPS) in St. Louis, MO, who asked the Maschhoffs to send photos and samples of the plastic flooring panels to determine if recycling was feasible.

Cope explains that most plastic used for manufacturing durable products like hog equipment is made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polypropylene. Even within a single composition category like HDPE, there are many grades and qualities, and some products contain added components to improve the quality for manufacturing.

Cope says plastic products destined for recycling must be sorted by composition and carefully evaluated. Materials are subject to stringent grading classifications before they can be processed for a specific end use.

“You can't just dump it into one big pile, grind it up and use it,” he explains.

Once Cope deemed the Maschhoffs' flooring was recyclable for certain industrial applications, he offered to purchase two semi-loads.

It wasn't big money, admits Poletti. “But it would have cost significantly more to landfill it.” He says saving the $32/ton disposal cost wasn't as important to the company as the environmental impact. “We wanted to be environmental stewards, and we didn't like the idea of going to the landfill with this much volume of product.”

Ready to Recycle

To ready the flooring for recycling, crews at the Maschhoffs power-washed the panels, then stacked and tied them on pallets for shipping to CPS in late August. The pork production company absorbed the freight cost for the 65-mile trip to St. Louis, which Poletti says was easily covered by the value of the recycled material.

At CPS, the panels were weighed, shredded, and then ground into ⅜-in. particles. After washing and drying again, the plastic was ready for an end user to manufacture agricultural drainage tile and plastic pallets. “Both are excellent applications for this material,” says Cope.

Poletti is currently evaluating whether other plastic items, such as farrowing crate dividers and feed system components, can be recycled. “We are very glad to see products we've used go to another use,” he says.

Cope says a wide variety of plastic products can be considered for recycling. Recycling value varies by composition. It should be free of wood, metal hardware or other foreign debris, he adds.

For more information, contact Stan Cope, Plastics Division, Central Paper Stock, 314-521-8686 ext 106, or write

The Sow Stall Debate Continues

This Quarterly Benchmarking review offers some clues on how gestating sows performed in four different housing systems.

Additionally, this fourth article in the Benchmarking series continues to study the key performance indicators (KPIs) summarized from herds working with Swine Management Services (SMS, Fremont, NE).

This data set, from the third quarter of 2007 and featuring our traditional 52-week and 13-week breakout periods, allows producers to track how KPIs change with seasons, management and a variety of other factors (Table 1).

This periodic review reinforces the importance of effectively collecting and utilizing accurate production records in your daily management, and offers tips that can help you squeeze greater efficiencies out of your production system.

Sow Housing Focus

All producers are keenly aware that some of the largest pork production operations in the United States and Canada have decided to move away from individual gestation stalls in favor of alternative gestation housing systems. Most notably, those concerned with the well-being of gestating sows favor some type of penning system.

Few comparisons of stalls vs. pens have been made under similar management systems, comparable genetics and a host of other factors.

Likewise, comparisons between different types of gestation systems are virtually non-existent in the scientific literature.

SMS has segmented their reproductive performance data where the type of gestation housing was known. The four different types include:

  • Pen gestation housing with a computerized feeder;

  • Pen gestation system without an electronic feeder;

  • A combination of pen and stall gestation housing (free stall); and

  • Individual gestation stall housing.

First, a word of caution before examining the production differences between these different types of gestation housing systems. The adjoining tables represent field data, collected without “control” groups for comparison.

Management capabilities can have a considerable impact on field data, especially when measuring reproductive traits. For example, some of the differences could reflect parity differences.

None of the farms employed more than one gestation housing system in an attempt to compare the reproductive performance of like genetics and nutritional programs on a single site using different environments. Therefore, these data must be reviewed cautiously.

That said, many would argue that the best evidence comes from data collected in a “real world” setting. For lack of controlled tests, these field data can help advance the discussion about gestation housing options.

Field Data Reviewed

In the current data available for comparison, the breakout of different gestation housing options was:

  • Five farms with a total of 4,788 sows utilized pens and computerized sow feeders;

  • Two farms with a total of 1,300 sows utilized pen gestation only;

  • Fifteen farms, totaling 22,273 sows, utilized a combination of gestation crates and pens; and

  • Twenty-seven farms with a total of 70,677 sows used gestation stalls only.

Read more on Page 2

These data came from farms within the SMS database in which gestation system type was clearly defined. Consequently, the total number of farms and sows in the SMS database does not match the totals in the entire database.

Table 2 summarizes the differences of the 10 KPIs reported under the four gestation housing types defined above. Our discussion will focus on the most important traits — pigs weaned/mated female/year (PW/MF/Y), farrowing rate, number of pigs born alive and average mated female mortality. Other traits are important, certainly, but most are encompassed in these traits.

The data reinforces that the most widely used gestation housing system is individual stalls, and their average PW/MF/Y is 24.57. All of the other gestation housing options from this data set had lower PW/MF/Y: 22.6 for the farms with a combination of stalls and pens; 21.9 for operations with gestation pens only; and 22.3 for operations with gestation pens and computerized feeding stations.

Noteworthy is the difference between sow gestation stalls and the other three options which range from 1.96 to 2.65 pigs weaned per mated female, annually. Clearly, the alternatives to the gestation stall appear to cut into the profit potential of the operations utilizing them.

Farrowing rate was the best in operations utilizing individual gestation stalls (85.2%), followed closely by operations using gestation pens only (84.7%). Pens with computerized feeding stations or a combination of pens and stalls had similar farrowing rates — both slightly higher than 80%.

Similar trends were seen in the number of pigs born alive. Operations using gestation stalls led the way, averaging 11.3 pigs born alive/litter, while all other gestation housing options had poorer performance, averaging from ¼ to ½ fewer pigs born alive/female farrowed (Table 2).

The one advantage that pens and pens with feeding stations had over individual sows stalls and the stall-pen combination was in the area of sow mortality.

The lowest average sow mortality was with the pens-only option at 2.9%. Pens with computerized feeding stations were exactly twice as high with a 5.8% sow mortality rate. Notably, those operations with individual stalls and the stall-pen combination averaged 9% and 9.9%, respectively. The 7% difference in sow mortality with these systems is considerable and deserves further study.

Use Data with Care

As previously noted, some of these data should be taken with a grain of salt. Reports in the scientific literature show sow mortalities increase as farms get larger. Could herd size explain why the lowest mortality was observed in the operations with pens only, averaging 650 sows/farm, in this dataset?

The answer is not clear and cannot be identified from this data alone. The greatest production, from a weaned pig/mated female/year point of view, is from the gestation housing option with the largest number of sows per herd — those with gestation stalls.

However, a look at individual herd data shows that some of the units with sows in pens and equipped with computerized feeding stations are improving. Three of those units recorded over 25 PW/MF/Y for the most current 13-week period in this data set. Updates will confirm whether these improvements are sustainable.

Rethink the Stall

The question needs to be asked: “Have we given up on the gestation stall too early?”

Clearly, if we use sow productivity as a measure of the sows' well-being, then gestation stalls appear to be the favorable choice.

That is not to say that the pen gestation systems cannot work. Our European counterparts, and some U.S. operations, utilize a variety of gestation housing systems with success. Producers will have to evaluate and identify the gestation housing system that fits their genetics and management capabilities best.

Forcing all producers to adopt a pen gestation housing system is probably not the answer to the sow well-being question.

Seeking Feedback

The Benchmarking series will continue to focus on key production indicators in 2008. If you have thoughts or questions about how to best utilize this benchmarking information, contact Ken Stalder at; National Hog Farmer Editor Dale Miller at; or SMS staff Ron Ketchem at or Mark Rix at

Table 1. Third Quarter 2007 Database Benchmarking and Ranking
Key Performance Indicator 13-Week Benchmarking Data 52-Week Benchmarking Data
Top 10% Top 25% All Farms Bottom 25% Top 10% Top 25% All Farms Bottom 25%
Number of farms 42 105 420 104 46 115 463 114
Mated females 52,951 158,939 700,915 158,399 55,396 155,023 782,222 190,100
Pigs weaned/mated female/year 27.50 26.40 22.90 18.28 27.05 26.03 22.57 18.79
Wean-to-1st service interval 5.94 6.25 7.08 8.81 5.94 6.25 7.10 8.20
Farrowing rate, % 88.1 87.8 83.4 77.5 88.4 87.9 82.8 76.5
Total pigs born/female farrowed 13.23 13.05 12.31 11.68 13.06 12.88 12.20 11.73
Pigs born live/female farrowed 12.13 11.94 11.16 10.38 12.01 11.81 11.07 10.49
Pigs weaned/female farrowed 10.93 10.64 9.75 8.68 10.81 10.51 9.63 8.85
Piglet survival, % 84.6 83.3 80.9 77.0 84.8 83.4 80.6 77.1
Avg. age at weaning, days 19.8 18.8 19.0 18.8 19.2 18.8 18.8 18.7
Average parity 2.66 2.89 2.88 2.02 2.58 2.74 2.44 1.90
Avg. parity of farrowed sows 3.15 3.04 3.08 2.84 3.07 3.12 3.15 2.92
Avg. parity of culled sows 3.49 2.95 3.34 2.86 3.01 3.01 3.10 2.89
Source: Swine Management Services, LLC
Table 2. One Year Benchmarking Values by Different Type of Gestation Housing
Benchmarking Data Pens with Feeding Station Pens Only Combination of Crates and Pens Stalls
Number of farms 5 2 15 27
Mated females 4,788 1,300 22,273 70,677
Mated females/farm 958 650 1,485 2,618
Pigs weaned/mated female/year 22.32 21.92 22.61 24.57
Wean-to-1st service interval 7.63 6.65 6.89 5.89
Farrowing rate, % 80.2 84.7 80.7 85.2
Total pigs born/female farrowed 11.84 11.71 12.12 12.35
Pigs born live/female farrowed 10.91 10.78 11.02 11.28
Pigs weaned/female farrowed 9.61 9.39 9.74 10.11
Piglet survival, % 81.0 80.3 81.8 83.6
Average age at weaning, days 17.5 19.25 19.40 18.94
Average parity 2.34 3.03 2.32 2.26
Avg. mated female mortality,% 5.80 2.90 9.90 9.00

Cleaning Up APP

A seedstock producer engages a new protocol for cleaning up Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia (APP).

For many years, APP has plagued pork producers. High death loss, treatment and control costs got so expensive that many chose to depopulate/repopulate their herds, says Paul Yeske, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, MN.

“Highly pathogenic strains 1 and 5 produced a very rapid onset of clinical signs in adult hogs that would progress to death very rapidly,” he observes.

Co-infections make outbreaks worse. “Certainly, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, porcine circovirus-associated disease and swine influenza virus would make APP much more difficult to deal with today,” warns Yeske.

Good environmental management is also needed to control APP.

“APP will teach you the lesson that overcrowding doesn't pay. Ventilation must also be carefully controlled, especially in the fall, where in places like Minnesota you can get 10-degree or more temperature shifts that can trigger stress and onset of disease. Inside hog buildings, you want to keep temperature variations to just 1-3 degrees during the day,” he notes.

Different Picture Today

New, more sensitive tests can help producers stay vigilant against new, low-pathogenic strains of APP.

Those new tests will identify all types of APP. The Chekit APP APXIV Antibody ELISA test from IDEXX eliminates time-consuming individual testing and/or culturing the organism, comments Yeske. The test, performed routinely at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, costs $6.25/sample.

Treatment options are also much improved with Excede (ceftiofur) and Draxxin (tulathromycin), both from Pfizer Animal Health; Nuflor (florfenicol) from Schering-Plough Animal Health; and Pulmotil (tilmicosin) from Elanco Animal Health, providing antibiotic answers in injectable, water and feed-grade formulations.

Disease Cleanup

An APP-positive seedstock operation Yeske consults with has experienced barriers to sales because of test status, not because of disease symptoms.

“This disease can be very expensive to live with, even if it is not a big clinical problem,” he adds.

“This herd has had a low virulent strain of APP. The offspring would uniformly test positive at the end of the finishing phase,” Yeske says. A cross-section of the herd indicated there were three active serotypes in the herd, with seroconversion occurring in the finisher. The sows and replacement gilts were uniformly positive.

Because the producer couldn't locate negative sources of similar genetics to use as replacement stock, eradication and repopulation weren't feasible.

Fortunately, a new, wean-to-finish facility located on a separate site provided the opportunity to attempt a modified, medicated early weaning (MMEW) program to clean up APP, says Yeske.

The protocol was as follows:

  • Offspring were taken from Parity 2 and older sows only.

  • Offspring were only taken for use in genetic repopulation of the herd.

  • All sows, whether in the project or not, were fed 363 g./ton of Pulmotil for 21 days prior to farrowing and during lactation.

  • Sows were injected with Draxxin (1 ml/88 lb.) at Day 100 of gestation.

  • Sows were redosed with Draxxin (1 ml/88 lb.) at Day 110 of gestation.

  • Piglets were weaned at less than 14 days of age.

  • Piglets were injected with Draxxin (1 ml/88 lb.), diluted to 1 ml/4.4 lb. at birth, at 7 days of age and at weaning.

  • Project sows and pigs were held in isolation in separate farrowing rooms.

  • Personnel for the project pigs only entered the rooms containing project pigs at the beginning of each day and wore separate clothing and boots assigned to the project rooms. Personnel did not reenter the project rooms until the next day if they'd worked in the non-project rooms that day. All equipment used in the project rooms was kept separate.

Testing, Repopulation

To avoid maternal immunity, 30 pigs more than 12 weeks of age were randomly sampled using the APXIV antibody test. In addition, all animals sold in the project were tested. Postmortems were done on all suspects and deads.

MMEW pigs are still growing and being monitored.

Sows bred off-site at the wean-to-finish facility, used to repopulate the herd, are also tested.

There have been a few unexpected positive test results, but those suspects have been resolved by use of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) in tissue or tonsil, and negative pig flows are being regenerated, says Yeske.

He notes while the project is not completed, results have provided some confidence.

With the new screening test, he expects more APP-positive herds will be found, and new eradication programs will get underway.

Yeske's report was given in mid-September at the Carlos Pijoan International Symposium on Swine Disease Eradication in St. Paul, MN.