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Canadian Pig Count Disappoints

Statistics Canada's January 1 count of pigs on Canadian farms was, at least to me, quite disappointing. At a time when large supplies are still weighing heavily on the U.S. market, imports of Canadian pigs are at record levels and losses for Canadian producers are, by all accounts, huge. Apparently, Canadian producers simply have refused to liquidate to any substantial degree as of the first of the year.

There are many indications that the liquidation in Canada has sped up over the last few weeks, but this snapshot paints a picture for very large hog supplies to continue through most of 2008. With costs still rising and no substantial reductions, at least in the hard, dependable data we have to date on either side of the border, I fear Purdue Agricultural Economist Chris Hurt's prediction that this could be the worst year for pork producers in history may actually come true. If so, I'll issue my mia culpa's to Dr. Hurt the first time I see him.

Consider the following from today's report:

  • Canada's breeding herd numbered 1.549 million head on Jan. 1, just 1.9% smaller than one year ago. Combined with a Dec. 1 U.S. breeding herd of 6.157 million head (1.1% larger than one year ago), this leaves the Can-Am breeding herd 0.5% larger than last year (Figure 1). I would not have expected U.S. producers to have cut back by now because they only started incurring losses in September. But Canadian producers have been losing money for more than a year, and yet the herd was reduced by only 2%.

  • Canada's market herd was pegged at 12.461 million head, 6.5% lower than last year. All of that reduction was in pigs weighing over 44 lb. (20 kg), reflecting the higher shipments of weaner and feeder pigs to the United States. The supply of pigs weighing 44 lb. or less on Jan. 1 was less than 1% smaller.

  • Canada's Q4-07 pig crop is only 0.3% lower than it was in the fourth quarter of 2006. That this number is smaller than the breeding herd reduction is no surprise as no one culls their best sows, so we would expect productivity to increase. Combining that number with a Q4 U.S. pig crop that is 4.3% larger, though, means that the Can-Am crop is still over 3% larger than last year, suggesting significantly larger slaughter runs in Q2-08 (Figure 2).

  • Canada's Q4-07 farrowings were 1.5% lower than one year ago. That is reasonably in line with the reduction of the breeding herd and lags the reduction a bit per normal. The concerning numbers, though, are farrowing intentions for the next two quarters, which are 0.2% and 0.4% lower than last year. Put those with U.S. intentions for the first two quarters and we still expect Can-Am farrowings to be 1.8% higher in Q1 and even with Q2-07 (Figure 3). If that many litters are farrowed in Q2 and survival rates remain as high as they were in the second half of 2007 -- and why wouldn't they be if producers could still get enough circovirus vaccine -- it means Q4-08 slaughter will be even with Q4-07. Do you really think we can dodge another fourth quarter of 9.055 billion pounds? Will China and exceptional domestic movement still be there to bail us out?
Sow Slaughter Update
With all that said, sow slaughter has increased in recent weeks. The movement of sows from Canada to the United States has not shown up in the data, but I've heard the USDA is revising those data. My suspicions that some cull breeding animals were being counted as market hogs appears to be correct. How big the revisions will be is still unknown, but I believe they will provide us with a more accurate picture of the current situation. I just hope it jibes well with recent Canadian and U.S. sow slaughter data and, perhaps, suggests a larger, more rapid reduction of production capacity. Look for more on this subject next week.

Time to Play Defense
On a day when the supply news left me disappointed with the pace of reductions, though, Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Group Lean Hogs futures were up across the board, with the deferred contracts going up the most. These Lean Hogs futures should have been the most negatively impacted by the slow rate of reductions in Canada.

There is a longstanding and strong seasonal tendency for hog futures to rise with the temperature in the spring. Today's price change suggests that that historical trend may yet win out in spite of higher-than-hoped-for inventory estimates and the sell-off of the past 10 sessions. Higher feed prices will indeed drive up hog prices in the long run, but the futures markets seem to bid them in immediately these days. That doesn't agree with my economist's school lessons, by the way.

I am more convinced than ever that producers should adopt a defensive mindset for 2008. I believe that the chances are slim that you can accept all of the risk of cash markets and end this year ahead of where you are now. Study your situation carefully and consider the value of breakeven or small losses versus the potential for large losses.




Click to view graphs.

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

Stalls Versus Pens

The University of Minnesota's swine research facility at Waseca, MN, compares sows housed in individual stalls vs. pens, but the jury is still out.

The coordinator of sow housing research at one of the largest swine research facilities in the United States has concluded that both types of confinement — individual stalls and group pens — can adequately accommodate the needs of sows in gestation.

Samuel K. Baidoo joined the University of Minnesota's Southern Research and Outreach Center at Waseca, MN in 1999. “We decided to compare the impact of two housing systems — individual stalls and group pens — on sow longevity and productivity in the new swine research facility completed in 2001,” explains Baidoo.

The project modification and sow herd expansion includes about 800 sows — 400 sows housed in individual gestation stalls and six pens of 60 sows each (360) with one electronic sow feeder/pen (Osborne Industries, Inc.).

There are eight farrowing rooms with 16 farrowing units/room. Groups of 64 sows are washed, weighed and probed for backfat, before farrowing and at weaning, to determine changes in weight and backfat during lactation. Litters are weaned every two weeks at 18 days of age and 500-600 pigs are fed out in nearby wean-to-finish facilities, Baidoo explains. Surplus pigs are fed out by area producers and in finishing facilities at the University of Minnesota-Morris.

After farrowing, sows are returned to their respective gestation housing systems. “It is a very interesting dynamic system in the sense that the difference between stalls and group housing is more of a perception than an issue of sow productivity or animal care,” he says.

One focus at the southern Minnesota research facility has been on longevity, comparing sow survival in the two systems. “There are sows in both systems that have been here since 2001, and some of these sows are close to their 14th parity,” Baidoo notes. Data is for 2001 to mid-2007.

Figure 1 for the parity distribution by sow gestation housing system shows the retention of sows within the herd over time. The overall average parity for individual stalls is 4.5 parities, and for group-housed sows is 4.2 parities. At 1.98 years average sow productive lifetime, sow longevity slightly favors individual stalls, compared to group-housed sows at 1.84 years. For example, the 1.98 years was computed from the average number of years the sows were productive on the farm. One parity = 115 days (gestation) + 28 days (farrowing room from Day 109 of gestation to weaning) + 5 days (wean-to-estrus interval) + 22 days (repeats) = 170 days; 365 days/170 days = 2.14 parities/year. Average parity from 1 to 12 = 4.24. Number of productive years within the herd (4.2 parities/2.14 parities/yr) = 1.98 years for sows in individual stalls.

Baidoo and fellow scientist Roger Walker agree that sows shouldn't be culled just because of their age, provided they are still productive, healthy and in good body condition.

Older sows are used to the system and present fewer management challenges. “They are easier to take care of because they respond to management very well,” says Baidoo.

Production Comparisons

“The overall performance of sows in individual stalls was generally as good if not better than performance in group-penned sows,” says Baidoo, associate professor of swine nutrition and management.

When Baidoo pooled litter data for 2001-2007 (Table 1), he found that average total born was 11.5 pigs for sows in the electronic sow feeder (ESF) pen system and 11.6 pigs for sows housed in stalls. Similarly, born alive averaged 10.4 pigs in pens vs. 10.6 in stalls.

More pronounced differences in sow performance appear in Table 2, which reveals a greater total loss of backfat during lactation in sows from individual stalls vs. pens.

Noticeably, farrowing rate for the period averaged 84.5% for sows in the ESF system vs. 88.8% for sows in stalls, says Baidoo.

The impact of gestation housing by parity on average daily lactation feed intake and stillborn rate were virtually identical for both sow groups.

Both housing types recorded wean-to-estrus intervals of about five days.

There was no difference in preweaning mortality rates for the two groups of sows.

Dynamic Group System

Baidoo says there are some valid reasons why performance is slightly lower in the group setting. “Our group system is a dynamic system in the sense that two groups of sows are mixed during gestation.” Groups of sows are added at two different times, as opposed to a static system, where no sows are mixed.

Group-housed sows are bred by artificial insemination in stalls, then returned to pens with pregnant sows five days later. This mixing results in altercations between sows. This is a social behavior of sows to establish hierarchy. Baidoo suspects that is having an impact on litter size.

“What is interesting is that the fighting is not between the newly introduced sow group and the old, established sows in the pens. It's just between the newly introduced sows, because to them everybody is a stranger,” he observes.

The altercations normally last for about 24 to 48 hours. But once that is done, group-housed sows seldom fight.

Walker says his experience has shown that if sows can “tough it out” through two parities in pens, their longevity can equal that of sows in stalls.

Baidoo would prefer to keep group-housed sows in stalls for at least 24-28 days post-breeding to ensure proper embryo implantation, but there isn't adequate room because of the two housing systems. A modification of the system would include a set of individual stalls for breeding and housing sows for 24-28 days, before moving them into a pen system.

Baidoo says groups of 10-15 sows can be moved from pens to farrowing rooms and back without problems, compared to sows always housed in individual stalls.

Management Differences

While the sows seem to perform equally well in stalls or pens, management is another matter. The barn staff prefers individual stalls for treatment because it is easier to find and treat sows. In pens, they have to search through 60 sows to single out one for treatment.

One advantage for groups with the Osborne system is the hand-held, point-and-scan data logger, which reads the sow's ear tag and provides her history.

Baidoo says electronics help, but it doesn't ease the management load. “In fact, it may seem like the group housing system is easy to manage, but it demands more management skills and staff need to pay closer attention to details,” he notes.

Staff will check the computer often to see if a pregnant sow in the pens is sick or has lost the electronic ear tag — “obvious reasons why they won't go to the feeder,” he adds.

Sows that lose their tags cannot be fed because the computer has nothing to read. “That is a problem,” he assures.

Baidoo reports the Osborne electronic sow feeder is a very durable and reliable feeding system that in some ways mirrors individual stalls in feeding sows to body condition. The feeder dispenses feed slowly, allowing the sow to eat all or part of its daily ration at one time. If a sow leaves the feeding station before consuming her daily ration, she can return to eat the balance, because the computer knows she hasn't finished her daily allocation.

A nearby water dispenser allows the sow to enjoy liquid feed, which encourages sows to finish their feed at one setting, Baidoo suggests.

Animal Care

Judging which housing system provides the best care for sows is not such an easy task.

It's well known that stalls provide a controlled environment where individual sows are protected from others in the group, where pregnancy, health and well-being can be maintained.

That compares to a group setting where fights can produce scratches, bruises, feet and leg injuries. Vulva biting occurs as sows queue up to go through the feeding station, says Baidoo.

One thing for sure: older sows and young gilts are never mixed in a pen. Gilts from isolation are bred in stalls; one half of the group stays in individual stalls and the other half is moved into training pens until Day 109 of gestation, when they move to farrowing rooms. Training of gilts to use the ESF systems takes about two to three days. Some gilts learn quickly, while others are a challenge. But eventually, they learn how to use the system for feed. No more training is required as long as the sow stays in the breeding herd.

Newly weaned gilts join their cohorts, half being assimilated in group housing in pens and the other half housed in individual stalls, Baidoo points out.

Visitors Welcome

The Waseca facility offers tours to the public and other researchers. Visitors usually prefer to see sows housed in groups because they can walk freely, socialize and lie next to each other, Baidoo explains.

In contrast, when sows are in individual stalls, they appear to be bored and stressed. “This perception that sows in stalls are always under stress is difficult to understand,” Baidoo declares.

During their studies, sows were tested for cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone that indicates stress. Higher cortisol levels indicate higher levels of stress.

“Interestingly, sows in the ESF systems have high cortisol levels almost all of the time,” says Baidoo. He observes the high-stress levels are produced by the constant interaction group-housed sows have with others in the pen.

Housing Studies Continue

Baidoo says the comparison of stalls vs. pens will continue. Changes may include widening gestation stalls to accommodate the large sows in the system. It's common to have 600-lb., Parity 6 sows in the research herd.

Pens may be divided in half so sow groups don't have to be mixed, hopefully reducing the fighting.

From the seven years of comparing stalls to pens in gestation, Baidoo is convinced that productivity is not an issue. Choosing a housing type is a 100% animal care issue.

“But I don't believe that we are ready in the pork industry to go to a 100% group-housing system. We need the individual stalls for breeding and to let the embryos settle after breeding for at least 24-28 days,” he states.

What's more likely to happen is there will be modifications of individual stalls and group housing systems to meet the needs of specific systems.

Table 1. Performance of Sows in Stalls and Pens with ESF
Criteria ESF Stalls
No. of Litters 1,593 1,646
Sow backfat, in.
Farrowing .78 .74
Weaning .70 .67
Loss during lactation .08 .07
Sow body weight, lb.
Day 109 of gestation 519.2 495.0
Weaning 496.3 488.0
Loss during lactation 26.0 26.4
Wean-to-estrus interval, days 5.2 5.1
Farrowing rate, % 84.5 88.8
Table 2. Performance of Sows in Stalls and Pens with ESF
Criteria ESF Stalls
No. of Litters 1,562 1,622
Total born 11.5 11.6
Born alive 10.4 10.6
Pig birth weight (lb.) 3.5 3.5
Pig weaning weight (lb.)* 14.1 13.9
Pigs weaned 9.5 9.6
Preweaning mortality, % 9.1 9.0
* Average weaning age = 18 days

How to Manage High Input Costs

Changing times call for changing strategies in buying and selling.

The time-honored strategy of buying low, converting efficiently and selling high is taking on new meaning in 2008, according to a leading agricultural economist.

“What constitutes ‘low’ and ‘high’ has changed considerably in the last year,” notes Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics, Inc., who spoke at the 2008 Iowa Pork Congress.

While today's escalating corn prices are challenging the all-time highs set in 1995-96, Meyer suggests some strategies to manage input costs. Start by using existing feed inventories, and consider using distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS) in your hog rations.

“There have only been a few times when DDGS relative to corn have been a good deal for hog producers, but they can work now,” states Meyer, author of the Market Preview column in National Hog Farmer's weekly e-newsletter, North American Preview. He notes the ethanol byproduct can comprise 10-20% of a hog's ration without hurting performance. “We can't hang our hat on DDGS, however, because if the product gets too inexpensive, cattle producers will bid it away.” The biggest challenge with alternative feed products is that they are all priced off of corn, says Meyer, who advises pork producers to consider buying call options. Call options aren't cheap, but don't discount them.

“They are an insurance product that puts a lid on corn prices and can help prevent a bigger train wreck if corn goes higher,” he says. “Remember, now is not the time to be aggressive; it's time for defense.”

Meyer says grain prices in 2008 will depend on these factors:

  • South American soybeans: “It appears that beans are driving the boat,” he says. Rains have delayed plantings in some areas, but growers expect good yield potential this year.

  • U.S. corn production: With the battle for acres continuing, it's not clear how much land will be devoted to corn production in the United States in 2008. However, high corn yields will be critical to meeting market demand for food and fuel, says Meyer.

  • Drought risk: The risk of drought normally follows a 19-year cycle, according to Iowa State University Climatologist Elwynn Taylor. The level of risk for serious drought in Iowa and parts of the Corn Belt doubles during that cycle, which is now occurring.

Meyer says cutbacks in the U.S. swine industry can be expected in the months ahead. Herd reductions are already occurring in Canada, where analysts expect the sow herd to eventually be trimmed by 25-30%.

“These are challenging times, and things could get worse before they get better,” acknowledges Meyer. His advice: feed pigs as cheaply as possible and keep playing defense.

“We've weathered hard times before and we can do it again,” he comments.

Hog Barns Don't Come with Owner's Manuals

Hog Barns Don't Come with Owner's Manuals

An effective operations manual can help barn staffs keep production facilities running smoothly.

Pork producers commonly invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a production site, yet give little thought to sitting down and drafting an owner's manual that will ensure it operates as efficiently as possible. Such an owner's manual, for a production site or series of buildings, would contain the following chapters:

Chapter 1: Operating characteristics of the heating and ventilation system.

Chapter 2: Feed system operation, including feeder settings.

Chapter 3: Water system operation.

Chapter 4: Emergency operation procedures.

Chapter 5: Repair schedules and seasonal settings.

Note that the idea of an owner's manual does not detail the many management issues associated with daily care of the pigs, such as identification and treatment of sick pigs, nutritional regimens, vaccination schedules, marketing of pigs, etc. Rather, the manual should detail the many issues that will allow the day-to-day operation of the facility to run smoothly.

Let's take a closer look at the contents of each chapter:

Chapter 1 — Heating and Ventilation Systems

Most likely, there is no detailed explanation of how or why the various ventilation system components were chosen, or a detailed listing of the capacities of those components, or the most common settings for the ventilation controller.

Armed with fan- and facility-specific information, it is possible to predict how a ventilation system will respond to various pig sizes, pig densities and changing seasons.

Assuming insulation values of R=30 for ceilings and R=3 for sidewalls, combining pig heat production estimates with facility heat loss equations make it possible to create Table 1. The balance point temperature in the table lists the estimated incoming air temperature at which heat production equals heat loss via the ventilation system and facility perimeters, walls and ceiling at various combinations of pig weight and room temperatures.

For pigs weighing 50 lb., if the set point of the controller is 70°F, and the first stage variable-speed fan has the minimum speed set to ventilate at 5 cfm/pig (two 24-in. pit fans in a 1,200-head facility), the room is in balance when the incoming (outside) air temperature is 23°F. If the incoming air temperature is cooler than this, heat must be added or the room temperature will gradually decline.

Conversely, if the incoming air temperature is higher than 23°F., the ventilation system will gradually increase the amount of air removed (cfm), while the room temperature rises.

When the stage 1 fan(s) run at 100% speed (often 10 cfm/pig), the room temperature is 2°F higher (bandwidth setting in the controller) than the set point and the incoming air will now be approximately 45°F.

Bandwidth is used with variable-speed fans to define the number of degrees of temperature change necessary for the fan to go from the minimum speed to full speed. A common winter setting is 2°F, which means the fan increases speed from the minimum to the maximum as the room warms up 2°F. When the fan is operating at full speed, the room temperature is 2°F warmer than the set point temperature.

As Table 1 illustrates, one of the biggest ventilation challenges in many wean-to-finish facilities is getting the ventilation rate low enough for pigs weighing 25 lb. or less. The balance point changes from 22°F to 45°F as the ventilation rate increases from 2.5 to 5 cfm/pig for 25-lb. pigs. At the 5-cfm/pig rate, this means heat must be added either as room heat or supplemental zone heat whenever the incoming air is colder than 45°F vs. heat additions at 22°F with 2.5 cfm/pig.

In addition, consideration must be given to humidity levels in grow-finish facilities. Table 2 offers some guidelines for managing ventilation rates during cold weather.

Continue Reading on Next Page...

Chapter 2 — Feeding System Details

With skyrocketing feed costs, one would think that feeder management would be high on everyone's priority list. Yet, all too often, animal caregivers ignore feeder settings in their rush to complete pig observation and management routines.

Generally, many barn workers have had little training in the appropriate feeder settings for various types of feeders and stages of growth. There are several good Web sites with pictures of recommended feeder adjustments meant to help maximize growth and efficiency. One of the best is: http://www.asi.k-state.edu/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabindex=1007&tabid=889.

While helpful, an even better approach is for the pig owner and the employee to walk the pens together while discussing appropriate feeder management. When both agree on a setting or range of settings, use a digital camera to record the agreed upon settings. Print and post the pictures in the facility for easy reference.

Chapter 3 — Water System Details

Water consumption by nursery and grow-finish pigs has a distinct pattern within a 24-hour period. In thermal-neutral conditions (generally air temperatures in the pig zone less than 80°F), grow-finish pigs begin drinking water around 5 or 6 a.m. Water consumption normally peaks in early afternoon, then gradually declines the remainder of the day (Figure 1).

However, when pigs are housed in warm to hot conditions — air temperatures in the pen exceeding 80°F for one or more hours/day — they will alter their drinking pattern. Pigs will begin drinking earlier in the day and peak at 8-9 a.m. Water consumption will decline through the middle of the day, then peak again from 5 to 8 p.m., before declining again into the evening hours.

It is very important to check for waterline restrictions. Waterlines connected to drinking devices in swine facilities are almost always ¾-in., inside diameter (ID).

The Midwest Plan Service (MWPS) recommends that water supply lines be sized with a velocity of 4-ft./sec. (Table 3). Finishing pig-drinking devices should provide 3-4 cups/min. capacity. In other words, the typical ¾-in. waterline in a production facility has the capacity for no more than 22 drinking devices.

And, while many water medicators have rated capacities of 7 gal./min., many are attached to drinking water supply lines with ½-in. washing machine hose, which has a capacity of only 2.5 gal./min. (Figures 2 and 3). In some instances, restrictions in the attachment plumbing are as severe as ⅜-in., which means water flow is restricted to 1.4 gal./min.

Pressure regulators are another overlooked restriction in water delivery systems. Drinkers are often installed with line pressures of 20 psi. The intent of these lower pressures is to reduce the effort required by the pig to activate the water delivery device, thereby reducing water wastage. The formula to compute the impact of a change in pressure on flow is: √(P1/ P2).

Thus, if the supply pressure to the facility is 40 psi and the pressure reducer is set to 20 psi, the resulting flow rate is 71% of what it was at 40 psi. If you double the pressure — from 20 psi to 40 psi, for example — the flow increases 41%, assuming there are no other limits to flow in the delivery system.

And, don't forget flow restrictions associated with water meters. Many builders install water meters with ⅝-in. internal capacity, which means the capacity of the meter (and drinking waterline) is only 3.8 gal./min.

Final restrictions in water delivery systems are filters. The location of the filters may make them very difficult to routinely flush or clean. Often, regular maintenance of the filters is not planned for.

Chapter 4 — Emergency Operation of the Facility

Alarm systems and fail-safe devices should be tested on a routine basis — weekly or monthly, depending on the system — to verify operation of the system's devices. Test results should be recorded in a written log. If a catastrophic event occurs at the site, this written log makes it more likely that an insurance claim for losses will be resolved in a timely manner.

Ventilation controllers are mini-computers and are subject to failure due to electrical voltage spikes, lightning, etc. Every animal space that has the ventilation system controlled with an electronic controller should have mechanical override thermostats installed in the space. One thermostat controls the heating system and is set no closer than 5°F below the set point of the ventilation system. The other thermostat(s) is designed to provide heat relief, and is often set to activate one or more fans or curtain drops when air temperatures are in the range of 85-90°F in the facility.

Chapter 5 — Seasonal Maintenance Logs

As production systems grow larger, and the number of people responsible for the various components of the system increases, the seasonal maintenance tasks are often overlooked. Written checklists that apply to a specific site or facility will help insure that these routine tasks are accomplished. The supervisory staff should verify completion of these tasks.

Making the Manual Useful

Once the manual is written, either as a formal document or as a series of notes, put it with the equipment manuals for the site in a location where it is readily accessible to anyone responsible for operating the systems effectively. A records storage case (plastic preferred) is often used to assemble all documents and manuals in one location. The storage case should be water- and rodent-proof, yet provide on-site access to everyone who may need to access this vital information.

Evaluate Market Weights

Today's low hog prices and high feed costs are squeezing producers' margins, and analysts have again called for lowering market weights to reduce supply, says John Lawrence, Iowa State University Extension livestock economist.

“Slaughter weight is a variable under the producer's control and, unlike the number of hogs coming to market, is one that can be adjusted in the short run,” Lawrence explains.

“It is also a dilemma for producers. Lowering market weights does reduce supplies, but to have a price impact, a large number of producers must participate,” Lawrence explains.

Reducing market weights by 5 lb. from 265 to 260 lb. is a 1.9% reduction in total pork supply. All other conditions equal, this reduction could result in a 5-6% price increase, or about $2.50/cwt., carcass, in a $50/cwt. market.

“If producers are still selling hogs at the same weight as they did when hogs were $75/cwt., carcass, and corn was $2/bu., it's time to reevaluate the optimal market weight. The most profitable weight at which to sell is when the additional cost of the next pound is equal to the revenue of that pound,” Lawrence states.

The problem with this simple marketing rule, however, is that reality dictates the cost of adding weight at an increasing rate and changes with feed prices.

Adding weight may also impact the lean premium and sort loss, which could impact the price of all pounds, not just the added pounds.

For help in making marketing decisions, visit the Iowa Pork Industry Center's Web site, www.ipic.iastate.edu.

Pleuropneumonia Remains Threat

Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia (APP) is a respiratory pathogen of swine that remains a deadly threat.

Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia (APP) is a bacterial infection that affects the respiratory system of pigs. APP can affect any age of swine, but it is most commonly observed in production flows of pigs from 40 lb. to market weight.

In positive production flows, the sows are usually carriers without clinical signs. These sows pass the organism to the piglets prior to weaning, but also pass antibodies via colostrum to piglets at birth. These antibodies will usually protect pigs from the clinical signs of APP until the end of the nursery stage or later, and can interfere with effective vaccination of piglets.

Clinical Signs of APP

Clinical signs include a rapid onset of pneumonia. The organism causes a hemorrhagic pneumonia. Prior to death or just after death, it is common to see blood coming from the nasal cavity of pigs. When postmortem examinations are done on pigs infected with APP, the common lesion features large areas of hemorrhage in the dorsal (upper) lobes of the lungs. This lesion is unusual and is found in an uncommon area for lung lesions. Most organisms cause lesions in the lower lung lobes or throughout the lungs without hemorrhage.

The lesions can turn into lung abscesses where the surface of the lung is stuck to the rib cage. These are found in postmortem examinations and at harvest time in the packing plant. These adhesions have a negative affect on performance.

There are several different classifications of APP organisms, called serotypes. In the United States, the most common APP serotypes are types 1, 5 and 7. We occasionally see other serotypes and non-typable isolates. Serotype 1 and 5 isolates tend to be the most severe, with relatively sudden onset and increased mortality. Some farms find they are positive by serology with less aggressive serotypes, with limited or no clinical signs.

Obtain An Accurate Diagnosis

When diagnosing this disease, the most common disease to rule out would be Actinobacillus suis. The sudden onset of mortality with Actinobacillus suis is also found with APP. The lesions are similar to APP but usually less severe.

Getting an accurate diagnosis is the most important part of APP control. Ruling out Actinobacillus suis and getting an antibiotic sensitivity test completed are both essential.

With the fast onset of disease, it is advisable to use injectable antibiotics to limit death loss. After completion of the antibiotic treatment, pigs can become susceptible again. Vaccination of piglets is the most common control tool we use. Vaccination success has been variable at times with both commercial and autogenous vaccines.

Case Study No. 1

We were called to a 2,000-head finishing site last fall to perform postmortem tests on pigs that had died overnight. This was a 1,500-sow farm with multiple site production. The farrowing and gestation stages were on two sites with nursery and finishing offsite. Weaning averaged 18 days of age. There had been numerous seedstock entries after a depopulation 10 years ago.

The finishing site had two, double-curtain-sided buildings divided into four rooms with four consecutive weeks of pig flow on site. The pigs ranged from 200 to 240 lb.

Postmortem examinations revealed mixed infections. The lesions revealed a viral component and a lesion resembling APP. Laboratory work confirmed a swine influenza virus (SIV) infection as well as APP serotype 5. We treated the group with injectible penicillin and saw a good response. This farm continues to experience mortality, but only when a virus such as SIV or porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome sets up the lungs for the APP infection.

Case Study No. 2

We were called to do postmortem tests at a 3,000-head, single-site nursery. Weaned pigs were from a single source. Numerous 45-lb. pigs had died. All pigs had bloody noses and classic hemorrhagic lung lesions. An APP serotype 1 was isolated from submitted tissues. Treatment with injectable ceftiofur and feedgrade tilmicosin stopped mortality. This group was vaccinated with a commercial vaccine with serotypes 1, 5 and 7 and went to market without a relapse.

Summary

APP continues to be an organism of concern. It is always best to keep it out. Better serological tests have permitted better detection in seedstock sources and limited herd entry. For positive herds, tools to manage APP include multiple site production; all-in, all out by site; early weaning; antibiotics; and proper pig flow. Site depopulation removes the threat of APP as the organism does not survive well in the environment.

Parity's Impact On Productivity

Parity structure of the breeding herd can have a significant effect on efficiency and profitability.

The objective of this first in the 2008 quarterly benchmarking series is twofold. First, a comparison of key performance indicators (KPI) from the previous quarter and year will be made with the values observed 12 months ago. And, we will examine performance of sows, by parity, in order to demonstrate the importance of maintaining proper parity structure in the breeding herd and its effect on the efficiency of a modern pork production operation.

This series is aimed at helping pork producers and managers squeeze greater efficiencies out of their production systems and to reinforce the importance of effectively using accurate production records. Production records combined with benchmarking against the top producers can help identify areas where some fine-tuning may help an operation reach the levels attained by their very best competitors.

We will use pigs weaned/mated female/year (PW/MF/Y) to evaluate our current standing compared to 52 weeks ago. This value serves as a barometer to measure where we're at and where we want to be in the future.

It is important to note that Swine Management Services, LLC, the source of this benchmarking data, has increased the number of farms contributing to this data set from 314 farms in 2007 to 479. This increase is reflected by the increase in numbers of sows from just under 530,000 sows in 2007 to over 800,000 sows currently — an increase of over a quarter of a million sows. This type of increase can skew a year-by-year comparison, but it still provides a good benchmarking target for the industry.

Weaned Pig Averages Edge Upward

The PW/MF/Y values for the most current 52-week period (2008) and comparable data for 2007 are shown in Table 1.

The top 10% of farms in the 52-week summary from the most current quarter reported a 27.07 PW/MF/Y average compared to the top 10% a year ago with 26.95 PW/MF/Y. This reflects 0.12 more pigs, or an improvement of just under 0.5%.

When we look at the same values for the top 25% of producers, a slightly greater increase is seen — 26.02 vs. 25.41, which is a 0.61 pigs weaned difference, or a 2.4% improvement.

The PW/MF/Y average across all farms during the 52-week period showed an increase of 0.20 pigs weaned (22.57 vs. 22.37), an improvement just short of 1%.

This data clearly shows that the best producers keep getting better, and even our average-to below-average producers are still making positive strides toward great efficiency. Producers ranking average or below will need to improve their management skills to more effectively ride out the current economic conditions.

Parity Differences

The second objective of this article is to compare productivity differences among sow parities.

It is generally accepted that maintaining an older sow herd can have positive effects downstream. Pigs from Parity 3 or higher sows perform better than pigs from gilt litters. These positive effects include improved average daily gain or days to market and reduced mortality throughout the nursery and grow-finish phases.

Table 2 illustrates the productivity differences from sows at different parities. To examine these differences we will compare the KPIs of farrowing rate, total number of pigs born, total pigs born alive, percent of litters farrowing less than 7 pigs born alive and number weaned. We will also examine culling and mortality by sow parity.

It is not surprising that Parity 1 females are consistently the poorest producers for all KPIs in this data set up to Parity 5.

The farrowing rate for Parity 1 females is the lowest in this data set, with the exception of sows at Parity 7 or higher. We see a similar trend when examining the number of pigs born and the number of pigs born alive. The exception — sows from Parity 6 and higher have fewer pigs born alive and a greater percentage of litters with 7 pigs (fewer born alive) when compared to the first-litter gilts.

The productivity by parity is not surprising. The fact that Parity 1 and 2 females do not have as many pigs born alive is included in the National Swine Improvement Federation's (NSIF) adjustments for parity for number born alive when conducting genetic evaluations. However, the difference between Parity 1 females and a mature sow (Parity 3 through 5) is not as great as the NSIF adjustments might suggest.

A closer look at the SMS database shows the difference in number of pigs born alive between Parity 1 and Parities 3-5 ranges from 0.35 to 0.66 pigs. The difference between these values and the adjustment factors recommended by NSIF may reflect the SMS database being largely populated with crossbred females, while the NSIF adjustments were calculated for pure line or purebred females, that do not have the heterosis advantage.

Culling Parameters

Sow productivity differences are often used to make culling decisions. Many producers automatically cull sows at specific parities. This is clearly evident in Table 2.

Parity 0 females (selected gilts that have not farrowed a litter) and P1 females have the highest cull rates. Culling in the mature sow parities — Parities 3 through 5 — averaged 10% or less. At Parity 6, culling begins to creep up. Parity 7 and higher sows represent 23.3% of culled sows.

Mortality rates often follow culling trends, by parity. Parity 0, 1 and 2 sows have the greatest mortality rate when compared to all other parity categories. As sows reach Parity 4 and higher, mortality within each parity group begins to decline.

Parity Predictions

Parity distribution not only impacts current production, it will likely influence future productivity and replacement gilt needs. Figures 1-4 illustrate four different herds that have distinctly different parity distributions.

The distribution shown in Figure 1 is generally classified as an ideal parity distribution, which results in a consistent need for replacement gilts. Based on the production information below, the most consistent pig flow is achieved when this “ideal” parity structure is maintained.

Figures 2 and 3 illustrate cases where the producer is relying too much on older sows (Figure 2) or a herd that is too young (Figure 3). Both of these cases are undesirable — but for slightly different reasons.

Figure 2 shows a bulge of older females from Parity 2 through 5. This bulge will move through the herd, eventually causing an abnormally high culling rate and, naturally, the need for a large number of replacement gilts. During the bulge, productivity remains good. But when a high influx of gilts is required, productivity inevitably slips. When high numbers of gilts are needed, selection criteria often become lax, which also hurts productivity.

In the worst-case scenario, an insufficient number of gilts are available, so younger (underage) gilts may be brought in without proper isolation, acclimation and development periods. This may be termed the “death spiral,” because once this trend starts, it is difficult to stop.

Frequently, the parity distribution in Figure 2 leads to the distribution shown in Figure 3, when a disproportionate number of gilts are needed. As the SMS database shows, the number of pigs born alive from gilts is lower than older females. Therefore, commercial herds with a parity structure as shown in Figure 3 will often record fewer pigs born alive, which reduces pig flow and, consequently, does not allow nursery and grow-finish facilities to be used efficiently.

Figure 4 shows the parity distribution of a herd in an expansion phase. Notice the relatively large percentage of females in Parities 1 and 2. This is a necessary evil associated with expansion. Producers should strive to get to the more ideal distribution illustrated in Figure 1 as quickly as possible after the herd expansion is complete.

The Best Get Better

It is clear that U.S. producers are continuing to become more efficient. The SMS database serves as a snapshot of U.S. commercial pork production. The database reinforces that parity productivity differences still exist in commercial sow herds. How we manage these differences will dictate how efficient producers will continue to be.

We need only monitor the ever-changing feed prices to understand the importance of improving efficiencies throughout the production chain. Further changes will continue to challenge our industry.

Next Quarter

The next benchmarking article will focus on sow and gilt breeding criteria. If you have thoughts or questions about how to best utilize this benchmarking information, contact Stalder at [email protected] or Editor Dale Miller at [email protected].

Design Affects Creep Feed Intake, Wastage

Design Affects Creep Feed Intake, Wastage

Creep feeder design can make a difference in the proportion of pigs that actually consume feed (“eaters”) and the amount of feed that is wasted.

Kansas State University (KSU) researchers have shown that piglets in the “eater” category have higher postweaning feed intakes and better growth performance. By encouraging creep-feeding behavior, more eaters can be created within a litter and postweaning performance can be improved.

Previous research has shown positive improvements on feeder visiting time and nursing pig creep feed intake when using a familiar trough or by increasing feeding space. However, those studies did not differentiate between the eaters and non-eaters within a litter.

Three Feeder Designs Tested

KSU researchers set out to evaluate the impacts that different types of creep feeders had on creating eaters. After testing three different creep feeder designs, the researchers determined a pan feeder with a hopper provided a consistent supply of feed while preventing the pigs from lying in the feeders or pushing the feed out.

After standardizing litter weight and size through crossfostering, 54 sows and their litters were divided among three experimental treatments. Each treatment was designed to test a particular type of creep feeder.

The first treatment used a rotary creep feeder. The Rotecna mini-pan, rotary creep feeder measured 10.6 in. in diameter, 34 in. in linear feeding space and 2.1 in. deep (see Photo #1).

The feeder design allows five pigs to eat at once. A six-liter capacity hopper (roughly 1.5 gal), adjustable to five different feeder gap settings, also has a curved rim and wings to separate piglets as they eat, thus reducing feed wastage. The feeder can be secured to the farrowing crate floor. Because this feeder had been used in previous creep feeding studies, it served as the control treatment in this study.

Treatment 2 used the same Rotecna mini-pan, rotary creep feeder without a hopper (see Photo #2). This feeder represents conventional bowl feeders commonly used within the pork industry.

The feeders used in Treatments 1 and 2 were placed in a location where they would be most accessible to piglets, and where sows could not urinate or defecate in the feeders.

The third treatment featured two stainless steel pan feeders 40.2-in. long, 5.3-in. wide and 1-in. deep. The twin feeder is held in place by the farrowing crate divider to allow creep feeding of pigs in adjoining farrowing crates. Each trough is 1.1-in. wide, 1-in. deep and 40.2-in. long (see Photo #3).

All piglets received a creep diet made up of 2-mm. pellets. A 1% chromium oxide dye was added to the diet in order to trace which pigs were actually eating the creep feed. The creep diet was offered ad libitum from Day 18 until weaning at 21 days of age.

Researchers placed enough creep feed in the hopper to ensure feed was always available to Treatment-1 pigs. Hopper adjustment was checked daily to allow ad-lib feeding and control feed wastage.

In Treatments 2 and 3, small amounts of creep feed were placed in the feeders whenever they were empty. The feeders were checked every two hours, for 12 hours each day. The frequency of adding creep feed was recorded for every crate.

The sows in this study were ad libitum fed the same lactation diet throughout the experiment. Nipple drinkers provided sows with free access to water, while litters had free access to water bowls.

Piglets were individually weighed at birth, at 18 days and again at 21 days of age. The amount of creep feed offered was weighed daily. Creep feed not consumed at weighing time was collected using a mini shop-vac and weighed.

Fecal samples were taken twice from all piglets using sterile swabs — between three and 12 hours before weaning — for all treatments in order to determine if the pigs had been eating the dyed creep feed. Piglets testing negative on the first fecal sampling were sampled again 9 to 12 hours after the first sampling. Piglets were categorized as “eaters” if the fecal sample was colored green in either or both samplings.

Sows were weighed after farrowing and again at weaning. Sow feed intake was recorded weekly to calculate total and average daily feed intake. Table 1 outlines feed intake and sow weight loss during the experiment.

There were no significant differences in pig and litter weights at weaning among litters using the different types of creep feeders (Table 2). Total gains and daily gains of pigs and litters were similar across treatments. However, litters using the rotary feeder with the hopper had 2.7 times lower total creep disappearance than litters using the rotary feeder without the hopper and the pan feeder (Figure 1).

The researchers say a lack of differences in pig and litter growth rates among the experimental treatments suggests pigs with access to the rotary feeders without a hopper and the pan feeders were wasting quite a bit of creep feed. While both of those feeders made feed more accessible to piglets when compared to the feeder with the hopper, they also allowed piglets to root feed out and to lie in the feeder.

The conical shape, curved rim and wings of the feeder with hopper prevented piglets from rooting, standing over or pushing creep feed out of the troughs. The hopper was also adjusted daily to manage the amount of feed that flowed out of the gap, thus controlling the level of feed in the trough.

Feeder Type Affects ‘Eaters’

While the results showed no differences in pig and litter weaning weights among the three feeder designs, the type of creep feeder did influence the proportion of eaters created among piglets (Figure 2).

The higher rate of eaters created using the rotary feeder with the hopper may be a function of both feeder design and feed consumption. The researchers speculated that the design of the feeder with the hopper kept pigs from wasting feed, while ensuring feed was continuously available in the troughs.

The lower rate of eaters in litters using the rotary feeder without the hopper and the pan feeder also support the theory that more creep feed was wasted than consumed.

Greater accessibility and increased feeding spaces resulted in higher creep feed disappearance, but did not produce more eaters within a litter. This is contrary to the assumption made by previous studies, where increased feeding space and accessibility was thought to encourage more piglets to imitate others at the feeder and stimulate initial creep feed intake. The lower number of eaters in this study suggests that less creep feed was available in these feeders for piglets to consume in appreciable amounts, researchers explain. They speculate that the pigs may be wasting feed faster than they are able to consume it when using certain types of creep feeders.

Last in the Series

The third and final research report in this series on creep feeding experiments will appear in the next edition of National Hog Farmer.

KSU researchers involved in these research efforts included Rommel Sulabo; Mike Tokach; E. J. Wiedemann; Jim Nelssen; Steve Dritz, DVM; Robert Goodband and Joel DeRouchey. For more information, contact Sulabo at [email protected].

Pneumonia Vaccine

A new Mycoplasmal pneumonia vaccine can be given alone or in combination with a circovirus vaccine.

Administering vaccine to provide protection against enzootic pneumonia caused by Mycoplasmal pneumonia has just become more flexible. Ingelvac MycoFLEX from Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. (BIVI) has been approved to aid in the reduction of enzootic pneumonia, providing quick immunity and long-lasting protection. “Ingelvac MycoFLEX will reduce clinical signs associated with Mycoplasmal pneumonia,” says Reid Philips, DVM, senior technical manager, swine respiratory biologics for BIVI. “Vaccination will also reduce the lung lesions and pneumonia often associated with this disease, which will help improve overall pig health and performance.” The single-dose product is the most flexible mycoplasma vaccine available, says product manager Gary Robertson. The single-dose formulation saves time, labor and stress on the pig. It can be mixed and administered with Ingelvac CircoFLEX. It should be used within four hours of mixing. The mycoplasma vaccine offers producers and veterinarians flexibility of use — mix the two products or use separately as desired, says Philips. Both are labeled for use in pigs 3 weeks of age and older, and both products provide 26 weeks duration of immunity. And the two vaccines are delivered using ImpranFLEX adjuvant, an aqueous-based product that provides high syringeability. Mycoplasma is considered one of the top co-infections with porcine circovirus type 2. For more information, contact BIVI at (800) 325-9167 or visit www.bi-vetmedica.com.

Line of Cold-Water Pressure Washers

Karcher has introduced a commercial line of cold-water pressure washers using a hand-truck design for easy maneuvering. The four models deliver cleaning power of up to 3,600 psi with a flow rate of up to 4 gpm. All models include Karcher's patented, professional-grade pump integrated with a Honda engine. The line of hand-truck pressure washers features a rugged steel frame, pneumatic tires and 50 ft. of commercial-grade, high-pressure hose. A unique pulsation dampener system eliminates the hammering effect common in power cleaning equipment. Each model comes with a stainless steel wand and Karcher's light-to-the-touch trigger gun. For more information, call (888) 805-9852 or visit www.KarcherCommercial.com.

System Measures Nutrient Profile

Cargill Animal Nutrition releases its REVEAL system for customers, a core process used to identify the nutrient profile of animal feed ingredients or diets. The Minneapolis-based company says REVEAL is a reliable process by which nutrients can be measured and managed. “Nutrient measure represents a cornerstone of nutrition,” says Cargill Animal Nutrition's Mark Knief, Global Consulting Services general manager. “While wet chemistry has traditionally been the industry standard for acquiring these nutrient measures, wet chemistry procedures have continued to improve based on the equipment, analytical procedures, laboratory information and nutrients analyzed, along with other, more timely procedures.” Knief says the REVEAL system affords a coordinated approach, including wet chemistry and near-infrared-red measures that link to related processes to buy, sell or formulate ingredients in real time. For more information, visit http://www.cargillcs.com or e-mail [email protected].

Cart Eases Dead Pig Removal

Lyon Engineered Products introduces a new cart that takes the work out of removing dead livestock from confinement barns. The Pigout features a unique design that allows for easy loading of the animal. Its narrow design easily fits down any aisle. The telescoping handle adjusts to fit any operator. The body style of the cart also works well for taking out small pigs. The cart can be loaded to capacity with a number of small pigs, reducing the number of trips in and out of the aisle. The Pigout utilizes the principles of balance and leverage to simplify the job of hauling out dead pigs. The cart has a loaded capacity of 325 lb. Standard length is 55 in. and width is 21 in. For more information, phone (888) 679-2227, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.lyonep.com.

Send product submissions to Dale Miller, Editor (952) 851-4661; [email protected]

Lactating Sows Feed Themselves

Lactating Sows Feed Themselves

New feeder design improves sow body condition and helps boost pigs-born-alive average.

About three years ago, Iowa Select Farms set out to do a better job of feeding sows in lactation.

“We work and work and work to get people to feed sows more consistently,” states Howard Hill, DVM and chief executive officer at Iowa Select Farms (ISF) based in Iowa Falls, IA. “Sows are often hand-fed two or three times a day with a scoop and feed cart.

“When you ask them, ‘how much feed is in that scoop?’ they'll say, ‘that's 5 lb.’ But is 5 lb. a full scoop or a heaping full scoop? They really don't know how much they are feeding,” he asserts.

“Our goal was to develop a more consistent feeding program that could keep lactation feed intake high. We wanted a low-cost, low-maintenance system that also saved labor.”

A pretty tall order, Hill acknowledges, but Iowa Select's production staff set to work with two equipment suppliers to meet the challenge. Through trial-and-error and a series of refinements, the system that evolved now has the sows feeding themselves.

The labor saved has been redirected to the important task of saving more pigs. An additional payoff is the assurance that feed disappearance is now a more accurate measure of actual feed consumption, having eliminated the estimated 10% feed spoilage that most often was scraped from feeders and dumped into the pit.

Evolution of a Sow Feeder

Iowa Select began testing feed delivery systems in a pair of 4,000-sow farms, one equipped by Cablevey, the other by Automated Production Systems (AP). Both carried feed to adjustable feed drop boxes mounted above each farrowing crate. Timers were set to drop feed from the boxes three times daily.

“Both systems allowed us to feed as often as we wanted, they both saved some labor and they both operated as advertised,” Hill says. “But we still had to adjust each drop box for each sow. Someone had to decide whether to cut the sow's feed back or how much to increase it. If a sow is overfed, it doesn't matter if you're feeding her with a scoop or an automated drop box if that feed gets wet and nasty, it still has to be cleaned out, which more than likely means it's dumped into the pit, so that problem hadn't been solved.”

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Feeder Components

The slanted portion of the PVC pipe is set with about a 1/3-in. gap. When set properly, there shouldn’t be much more than a cup of feed in the feeder at any time.

Hill describes the evolution of the automated lactation feeding systems as “a community effort,” with input from equipment suppliers and Iowa Select staff.

He credits a Cablevey representative for the suggestion to cut a PVC drop tube to match the angle at the backside of the sow feeder. Someone else suggested welding a collar to the feeder to make it adjustable and hold the PVC pipe in place.

In the end, the new feeding system has five basic components:

  1. A shutoff valve above each farrowing crate feeder descends from the overhead feed supply line.

  2. A section of surgical-grade rubber tubing, about 1½-ft. long, is attached to the shutoff valve with a hose clamp. Some units have substituted a canvas tube for the rubber tubing.

  3. A section of 2½-in. transparent PVC pipe, about 2 ft. long, is attached to the bottom end of the rubber tubing with another hose clamp.

  4. A 3-4 ft. section of 3-in., white, heavy-wall PVC pipe is cut at an angle at one end to match the angle of the backside of the feeder. The transparent pipe sits loosely inside the white PVC pipe. It is important that the white PVC pipe extends above the top rail of the headgate to prevent sows from knocking the transparent pipe out of the white PVC pipe — a lesson learned with early versions.

  5. A 4-5-in. section of metal pipe, slightly larger than the white PVC pipe, is welded securely to the corner of the feeder. A ⅝-in. hole is drilled in this collar where a ½-in. nut is welded to receive the ½-in. bolt that serves as the adjustable set screw to hold the white PVC pipe in place. The PVC pipe is set with about a ⅛-in. gap between the angle of the pipe and the back of the feeder.

“Normally, there's about a cup of feed around the slanted end,” Hill explains. “Feed wastage is nil. Very seldom will a sow play with the feeder and overfill the feed pan.” If they do, the PVC pipe is simply adjusted down to make it more difficult for the sow to get the feed out. Once the gap is set correctly, additional adjustments normally are not needed.

“The bottom part of the PVC pipe is the piece that gets the most workout. And there's a lot of pressure there, so you need a good weld on the collar,” explains Greg Gilsdorf, ISF pod production manager.

The length of each feeder section depends on the height of the ceiling. The flexible rubber tubing and the free movement of the transparent tubing inside the white PVC pipe are important, because they allow the front gates to be swung open to move sows out of crates.

The feeding system is on a timer, set to fill each feeder column three times a day (9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.). A column holds about 8 lb. of feed, so sows can eat up to 24 lb./day.

Feed lines are set up to serve three rooms of 39 crates, which constitutes one loop. Iowa Select's configuration of nine rooms in a row requires three separate loops, each with its own master control.

“Don't try to cheapen the installation,” Hill warns. “If you put in a master control with a couple of slave units, for the master control to work, the slaves have to be empty. That means you have to dump all of the slave lines into a cart. We tried that on a couple of farms and we went back and put in the additional lines and master controls.”

Feeder Management

When a farrowing room is loaded with sows, all feed drops are turned off and sows are hand-fed. “You don't want them gorging themselves before they farrow,” Hill explains. Feed drops are generally opened 2-3 days after sows farrow.

The last chore each day is to turn the feeding system off. This is both a safety measure and a practical one.

Although it's unlikely to happen, they don't want to run the risk that a sow could knock the feeding configuration apart and have feed pouring into the pit all night.

The practical reason is it gives the farrowing room staff a quick visual check of the transparent pipes, which tells them which sows are not eating. Those sows are checked closer and treated, as needed. “That's about all of the management there is to the system. It's very user friendly,” says Hill.

Payback is Multifold

“For years, we were at about the same level, reproductively. The two things that changed when we implemented this feeding system were pigs born live/litter and litters/sow/year improved,” explains Hill.

“Litters/sow/year is a function of non-productive sow days (NPD). If more sows fail to breed at first estrus, you stretch out those NPDs and it affects litters/sow/year.

“Our litters/female/year has increased about 0.2, which is a big number when you have 154,000 sows. That's 30,800 more litters,” he states. “I can't say that's all attributed to the feeding system, but we know the sows are in better condition, and it has allowed us to reallocate our labor, so sows are better cared for at farrowing.”

The time spent in farrowing rooms has been extended from 7-8 hours/day to 12-15 hours by staggering employees' arrival times, Gilsdorf explains.

Normally, a 4,000-sow unit will have three rooms farrowing at a time — two heavily and one wrapping up. One person is dedicated to checking sows in the three rooms, assisting as needed.

“We dry the pigs off as much as possible and make sure they get nourishment right off, because they absorb that energy from the milk in a hurry. We also use a lot of hot boxes,” he adds.

“There are three main functions on a sow farm,” interjects Hill. “You've got to get sows heat checked and bred, you've got to get them farrowed, and you've got to feed them right.

“In farrowing rooms, you often have different people doing the feeding. This system takes some of the critical feeding issues out of the equation. It takes the decision-making away from the people and puts it on the back of the sow, if you will.”

“To feed sows right, it needs to be done by your best person — which would tie him/her up all day long feeding sows. We don't have that issue any more. Our best people are now saving more pigs,” Gilsdorf adds.

Both agree that one of the big advantages to the system is it ensures sows are fed what they need and want seven days a week. Iowa Select's 4,000-sow farms commonly have a dozen employees. Four people handle weekend chores.

“You can set up all of the standard operating procedures you want, but you know those sows are not going to be fed three or four times/day on weekends (if you are hand feeding),” Hill declares. “With this system, the sows will get all of the fresh feed they need if all somebody has to do is come in and turn the system on in the morning.

“It's one of the simplest things we've done and the results have been great, both from a labor and a sow condition standpoint. Sows come out of lactation in much better condition,” he adds.

Gilsdorf did a cost analysis for installing the feeding system in a typical 4,000-sow unit with 780 farrowing crates. With independent feed lines and master controls for each loop, he estimates the cost at about $125,000, or about $160/crate, including labor.