National Hog Farmer is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Assessing Sow Removal

Support system offers objective tool to help make culling decisions.

Removing sows from the breeding herd for reproductive problems becomes a relatively easy task for pork producers. But when it comes to making similar decisions for welfare-related reasons, the task is much more challenging. Difficulties include the inability to determine the level of pain in such cases, and the inability to predict the effects of retaining sows with health issues on their subsequent performance.

The Minnesota Pork Board supported a project conducted at the University of Minnesota's Southern Research and Outreach Center at Waseca to assess the use of a sow removal decision-support system (DSS) to provide an objective tool for decision-making on lameness and downers in breeding herds.

The two-stage research project was as follows:

In the first stage, the level of lameness in gestating, lame sows was assessed on a scale of 1-3, along with the longevity in that parity and farrowing performance, without any medical intervention to account for animal suffering.

In the second stage, another group of lame sows from the same herd was assessed for the same factors, but this time an analgesic or pain medication was provided on three alternate days, starting from Day 1 of identification of lameness. A DSS intervention was implemented.

The DSS was used to calculate reasons for removals due to lameness based on a weighted pain score. That total score considers duration and intensity of the condition, and assignment of the pain score, multiplied by the number of days since the start of the treatment.

The DSS was applied for five days. There were 92 lame sows in the first stage and 88 lame sows in the second stage. Data was also analyzed for 68 sows for which farrowing information was available.

The DSS-implemented group showed higher litter birth and wean weights and lower preweaning mortality rates. Five sows were removed from the group where analgesics were used.

Fewer numbers of piglets were born alive in the group in which the DSS was implemented.

In conclusion, results suggest that retaining sows with health problems such as lameness may appear to reduce immediate production losses, but can adversely affect the herd performance in the long run.

Researchers: Sukumarannair Anil; Leena Anil; John Deen, DVM; Stacy Westen; and Samuel Baidoo, all of the University of Minnesota. Contact S. Anil by phone (612) 625-4243, fax (612) 625-1201 or email [email protected].

Water Usage Serves as a Tool For Troubleshooting

An electronic device to measure water consumption at the pen level could help pork producers accurately track water usage throughout the year.

The water meter provides fast and effective troubleshooting to hopefully decrease the incidence of a disease outbreak or water pipe leak, according to research conducted by Anna Kerr Johnson of Iowa State University.

Eleven PIC nursery age gilts were housed individually in pens and given ad lib access to a corn-based diet. Each pen contained one nipple waterer.

Two methods of recording water usage were compared. Method one consisted of two experienced observers using software to watch video footage of gilts, and using a specially designed keyboard to indicate when a gilt was at the nipple waterer. Method two was an apparatus attached to the waterline. An electronic meter sensed when and how long a pig drank and a data logger was used to collect and store the data.

Drinking patterns of the gilts were collected on Day 0, 7 and 14 of the trial using a color camera positioned over four attached pens.

In short, human observation underestimated the number of drinks and overestimated the duration of drinking behavior when compared to the water meter.

However, until more research is done, Johnson suggests it cannot be assumed that one method is superior to the other.

Researchers: A. M. Meiszberg, A. K. Johnson, J. Garvey and L. J. Sadler, Iowa State University; J. W. Dailey and J. A. Carroll, USDA Agricultural Research Service; and N. Krebs, Texas Tech University. Contact Johnson by phone (515) 294-2098, fax (515) 294-4471 or e-mail [email protected].

Sow Behavior May Be Root Cause Of Piglet Crushing

Research at Iowa State University found few behavioral differences between crushed and non-crushed piglets.

The study sought to determine behavior, postures, locations and vicinity to the sow for each piglet one hour prior to piglet death when housed in an outdoor farrowing hut.

In the study, 20 piglets were observed continuously using a video camera that recorded behavior of piglets that were crushed vs. those that survived.

No major differences were noted; however, piglets stood more during the daytime, and at night preferred to be near the sow.

Finding few behavioral differences between treatments may indicate that variation among sow behavior is more important as a cause of piglet crushing than variation among piglet behaviors, according to the researchers.

Researchers: J. R. Garvey, A. K. Johnson and L. J. Sadler, Iowa State University; and J. J. McGlone, Pork Industry Institute, Texas Tech University. Contact Johnson by phone (515) 294-2098, fax (515) 294-4471 or e-mail [email protected].

Send research submissions to Joe Vansickle, Senior Editor (952) 851-4670; [email protected]

Hot Water Alternative

Hot water pads are joining the short list of products designed to keep pigs snug and warm.

The challenge of keeping pigs warm and cozy during the two most stressful events in their lives — birth and weaning — has taken a new twist. A Canadian manufacturer has turned to hot water heat as an alternative to electric heat pads and heat lamps.

John Lichti, co-owner of Cozy Creep, an Ontario-based manufacturing company, began experimenting with hot water heating back in 1996.

The Cozy Creep underfloor heating system offers a low-temperature (84°F - 95°F) heat that warms the floor beneath the farrowing crate by circulating hot water through a maze of pipes encased in the concrete slab (or concrete overpour). A circulating pump returns the cooler water to the heat source where it is reheated in a closed-loop system.

Various forms of energy — natural gas, oil, propane, biofuel or electricity — can be used to power the hot water heater. Geothermal is perfectly suited for such applications, too, says Lichti.

Precast Protoypes

In Lichti's first system, the hot water pipes were installed when the new concrete barn floors were poured.

“It worked extremely well,” he says. “The problem with pouring it in place is that it's labor intensive. The concrete has to be handled and finished properly. You need a plumber, welders, carpenters and concrete people. Everything has to fit together, so it was fairly expensive from a capital standpoint.”

Lichti had plans to expand his hog operation and wanted to retrofit an older barn. The cost for a concrete overpour was prohibitive, so he came up with a modular design. Pipes are pre-cast into 2 × 4 ft. concrete pads designed so they can be inserted into existing farrowing crate creep areas or nursery pens. Tubing is designed so 20-30 farrowing crates can be linked in a single, closed-loop system.

Because the pads are factory made, quality is consistent and installation is easy because pipes come out to the edge, says Lichti.

“All you have to do is hook up a pipe to the one coming out of the pad and run it to the next pad. Since one control system can handle a loop of 20 to 30 crates it's great for retrofits,” he adds.

Each 2½-in. thick concrete pad is treated with silica fume — the same technology being used on bridges. “It keeps salt from seeping into the concrete,” he explains. “It has a high ash content and it changes the particle size, making them very small so water doesn't seep in when the pads are washed with high pressure washers.”

An added advantage over hanging heaters with blower fans is the heat radiates from the floor up to the pigs' lying surface, minimizing drafts and circulating dust.

The first thirty units were tested in Lichti's barn.

Comfort for Sows and Piglets.

“Since you're just heating the surface where the pig lays, you can keep the ambient temperature in the room quite a bit lower when using radiant heat,” says Lichti. “How much lower depends on your management style, but it could be as much as 10-12 degrees F. lower for a 3-week old pig in a nursery.”

Lichti compared radiant heat against convection heating for 2,600 litters in an informal trial. His data showed that the weaning weight increased by 18% and preweaning mortality was significantly reduced — dropping from more than one pig/litter down to just over a half pig/litter.

No Muss, No Fuss

Lichti says a practical advantage of the hot water pads is it eliminates the risks of malfunctioning, overheating or shocks from electric heat pads or heat lamps. And, they are competitively priced with electric heat pads, he adds.

“When it comes time to wash up, there's nothing in the way,” he says. “It's what clients comment on the most.”

Lichti estimates about 1.5 million Canadian piglets have been weaned on CozyCreep heat pads every year, since 2001. The heat pads received Ontario's Agri-Food Industry Innovations Award in 2006.

Most units are currently being sold in Ontario and Manitoba, but the company plans to enter the United States market later this year. Further information can be obtained at the web site:

Product Approved For Mycoplasma

Long-acting product gains new endorsement to treat common swine respiratory disease.

Pork producers have been given a new weapon in the fight against Mycoplasmal pneumonia. DRAXXIN (tulathromycin) Injectable Solution from Pfizer Animal Health is now approved to provide a long-acting, one-shot solution to control outbreaks. “Mycoplasmal pneumonia is one of the industry's most economically significant diseases because it affects growing pigs everywhere,” says Steve Sornsen, DVM, director of Veterinary Services for Pfizer Animal Health. “DRAXXIN is rapidly released from the injection site and absorbed into the tissue. The product acts quickly for long-lasting concentration in the lung tissue to provide excellent efficacy in fighting respiratory disease. Furthermore, the extended duration of antimicrobial activity of DRAXXIN has been proven in live pigs to be up to nine days after a single intramuscular injection in an Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia challenge model.” DRAXXIN is labeled for and is highly effective against five key bacterial pathogens that cause swine respiratory disease associated with Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia, Pasteurella multocida, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Haemophilus parasuis and now Mycoplasmal pneumonia. The product provides a low-dose volume and comes in 50, 100, 250 and 500-ml. sizes. The one-shot treatment reduces labor and stress on animals and speeds their recovery. DRAXXIN has a five-day, pre-slaughter withdrawal period, and should not be given to pigs that are hypersensitive to the product. For more information, visit

Large Pen Gestation System

Schick Enterprises has introduced the Automatic Gestation System (AGS), an alternative to conventional sow gestation methods. The automated large pen gestation system provides access to individual sows. Schick Enterprises, creator of SortAll Revolution, has developed AGS using RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to feed, track, separate and sort groups of as many as 300 sows. Tasks such as feeding, vaccinating and pregnancy testing are simplified using this automatic sow management tool. Plus, managing sows, checking system status, utilizing data and accessing the system remotely are all made possible through the intuitive software interface that comes standard with AGS. With AGS, all sows are fed at the same time, significantly reducing sow aggression. The sow gestation system also provides better sow condition and minimal maintenance. For more information, call (800) 527-7675 or visit

Utility Tractors

New Holland's rugged new 70- to 96 PTO-hp T5000 Series utility tractors are constructed for long life and durability with high-strength frames, axles and components. Their power and strength apply to heavy-duty loader work and handling larger, heavier implements, as well as working with tough hay conditions and demanding roadside mowing applications. The four-cylinder engines provide the power and torque for big jobs, and are turbocharged and intercooled for maximum fuel efficiency. The maximum engine speed has been reduced from 2,500 rpms to 2,300 rpms to further reduce engine noise and extend engine life. A hydraulic gear pump with an increased flow of 16.1 gpm provides hydraulic power, while a separate steering pump provides 10.4 gpm to the hydrostatic steering system. It also features a new hydraulic combining valve. Axles offer more capacity. Four standard and deluxe models are offered, with a flat-deck platform or all-weather cab. The standard models comes in two-wheel or four-wheel drive. Deluxe models feature Dual Command transmission with one power-shift per gear and convenient no-clutch, electro-hydraulic power shuttle. For more information, go to

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

All Signs Point to Mountain of Pork

With farrowing predictions up 1-3%, total production up 2-3% and slaughter up about 5%, prospects look ominous for 2008.

U.S. packers slaughtered a new-record 109 million head of hogs in 2007, 4.4 million and 4.2% more than the previous year.

USDA predicts commercial hog slaughter at nearly 115 million head in 2008, which will set another record.

Ominous signs were evident in wrapping up this past year, says Ron Plain, University of Missouri agricultural economist, speaking at the Minnesota Pork Congress. All 13 of the largest hog slaughter weeks on record (2.3 million head and up) were set from October 2007 through January 2008.

“We are killing an astounding number of hogs. We are getting run over with hogs and the prices are going down,” observes Plain.

Eleven of the 13 weeks in the fourth quarter of 2007 were above the old slaughter records, only interrupted by the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, when federally inspected slaughter plants are shuttered.

The trend continued into January 2008, and Plain expected record-setting slaughter numbers to continue through the end of February.

Hog Price Predictions

As a result of record-setting production levels, Plain forecasts Iowa-Minnesota hog prices for 2008 to average in the mid to upper $50s, carcass weight, (Table 1) and in the low to mid-$40s on a live weight basis (Table 2).

That's a drop from under $62/cwt., carcass weight, for negotiated hog prices in 2007.

“On a live weight basis, producers are going to need something well above $50/cwt. to break even, based on an average price for corn of $5/bu., so there will probably be plenty of red ink,” notes Plain.

Hog prices reached red ink in October 2007. Pork producers who opted to forward-price hogs on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) from late 2007 into early 2008 captured roughly $10/cwt. more than they could on the spot market.

“The hog futures market has been very optimistic about hog prices all through this (period of increased output), and they continue to be,” remarks Plain.

Figure 1 shows 2008 Iowa-Minnesota hog carcass price forecasts from Plain vs. the CME. The returns from the CME are considerably higher, even $15/cwt. higher for the fourth quarter of 2008.

Plain says that frankly, that level of optimism about hog prices during this time of significant overproduction is difficult to comprehend.

“But before you decide you don't want to be in the hog business anymore, take a look at hedging 2008 production on the CME,” he urges. “They are offering you an opportunity to probably break even, even with corn prices close to $5.”

That could smooth things out for producers who are facing the double whammy of high feed costs and low hog prices.

Feed prices are being driven higher by ethanol production that could hold the average price of corn for 2008 at an estimated $5/bu. and soybeans to $12.50/bu., Plain projects. Ethanol gobbled up just 6% of corn production at the start of this decade, but will consume four times that amount for 2007-08 (Figure 2). Ethanol production has virtually doubled in the past year or so.

Distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS), a by-product of ethanol production, can replace up to about 15% of corn in a hog diet. But the price of DDGS has been following the price of corn upward, making it a less attractive option. Plain says in the long term, the price of DDGS should level off and drop below the price of corn beyond 2008.

Pork Trade

An expanding share of that growth in pork production has been shipped overseas. In 2007, the United States recorded its 16th-consecutive year of increased pork sales, says Plain. The USDA has indicated that when all the sales are tallied, the United States could very well pass up the 27-member country European Union to become the world's largest pork exporter for 2007.

“We exported 3.2 lb. of pork for every pound that we imported last year, putting a value on pork and pork by-product exports at $28.89 for every market hog sold,” he says.

“Those exports went a long way toward helping the pork industry enjoy its longest string of profits on record — 35 months consecutively in 2004-2006,” Plain comments.

Commercial hog production, however, defied explanation during that time because it actually increased each of those profitable years from 2004-2006 and into 2007. “Pork exports went up incredibly fast, while imports were going down, so when you take U.S. production, plus imports, minus exports, we find that the amount of pork available on the U.S. market was actually shrinking year after year, even though we were raising more hogs (Figure 3),” says Plain.

Together with declining U.S. per-capita pork consumption and more exports, less available pork at retail meant higher prices for pork at retail, and the longest period of profitability for hog farmers in the last 40 years.

Plain points out that it usually takes five months of red ink (October 2007 to February 2008) before producers reduce breeding plans. “March is my estimate of the soonest that breedings will drop below year-ago levels, and that means it will be January 2009 before slaughter numbers will be below those of the previous year,” says Plain.

There's no doubt 2008 will be tough.

And Plain says don't forget that many producers made a lot of money in the last three years — and they should be able to stick it out if they choose to.

“Long-term, there is a place and a career in hog production,” he stresses.

Table 1. Iowa-Minnesota Hog Price Forecast, Negotiated Base Price Per Carcass, Hundredweight

2006 2007 2008
Quarter 1 $56.38* $59.90* $51-55
Quarter 2 $65.27* $69.45* $60-64
Quarter 3 $68.04* $66.14* $58-62
Quarter 4 $60.53* $52.08* $48-52
Year $62.54* $61.91* $54-58
*actual price - prior day purchased
Table 2. Iowa-Minnesota Live Hog Price Forecast, Negotiated Live Base Price Per Carcass Equivalent

2006 2007 2008
Quarter 1 $42.85* $45.52* $38-41
Quarter 2 $49.61* $52.78* $45-48
Quarter 3 $51.71* $50.27* $44-47
Quarter 4 $46.00* $39.58* $36-39
Year $47.53* $47.05* $41-44
*actual carcass price × 76%

Trial Tracks Impact Of Feeding Frequency

Aggression, body condition scores and reproductive levels were compared when sows were fed twice vs. six times/day.

Kansas State University researchers teamed up with Keesecker Farms, Washington, KS, to set up a comparative field trial, taking a closer look at the effects feeding schedules have on sow body condition, aggressiveness, sow injuries and mobility and reproduction levels in group-housed sows and gilts.

The eight-month study, conducted in the summer-fall of 2005, included 208 sows and 288 gilts fed either twice a day or six times a day.

Shortly after breeding, sows were housed eight/pen and gilts grouped 12/pen. Twice-a-day feedings occurred at 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., while the six times-a-day feedings were split - three in the morning (7:30, 8:00, 8:30) and three in the afternoon (3:30, 4:00, 4:30). Their theory was that more frequent feedings might result in dominant (boss) sows eating their allowance early in the day, leaving the more timid sows to eat their allowance in the afternoon.

The goal of this study was to determine whether the more frequent feedings reduced variation in body weight, backfat thickness, aggressiveness and feet and leg problems, compared to sows fed twice a day.

The 208 sows, with an average parity of 3, were weaned into individual gestation stalls, heat checked by a boar and artificially inseminated twice, then randomly allotted, by parity, to a 10 × 16-ft. pen, with eight sows per pen. Thirteen pens were fed twice a day and 13 pens were fed six times a day.

Sows were weighed and measured for backfat at the P2 position (about 2.5 in. off the midline at the 10th rib) when they entered the gestation pen, then again just before being placed in a farrowing crate.

Gilts were selected for breeding and moved to a breeding barn where they were exposed to a boar, checked for heat and bred twice by artificial insemination. Soon after breeding, they were also allotted to treatments — 12 pens allocated to twice-a-day feeding, 12 allocated to be fed six times per day. Twelve gilts were housed in each 10 x 16-ft. pen.

Due to the limitations of the gilt facility, two groups of bred gilts with similar breeding dates and treatments were combined and moved to larger pens in another facility at about 42 days of gestation. Like the sows, gilts were weighed and measured for backfat at the P2 position when placed in the first gestation pen, then again when they moved at 42 days of gestation.

A grain sorghum-soybean meal gestation diet was fed with feed drops delivering 5.5 lb./day for sows, 4.5 lb./day for gilts, split into twice-a-day feeding or six times-a-day feeding. Pens with sows had two feed drops/pen. Those with gilts had three feed drops for the first 42 days, then five drops to the end of their gestation periods.

Aggressiveness was measured by visually scoring lesions on the sows' and gilts' bodies and vulvas.

Total body lesion scoring used this scale:

1 = No blemishes to some reddening or calluses;

2 = Less than 10 scratches or five small cuts;

3 = More than 10 scratches or five small cuts; and

4 = Most or whole area covered with scratches and/or wounds, with little or no untouched skin.

Visual scoring of the vulva used this scale:

1 = No obvious wounds;

2 = Slight lacerations;

3 = Severe lacerations; and

4 = Severe lacerations and portions of the vulva absent.

Visual appraisal of mobility was scored as:

1 = No lameness of front or rear legs;

2 = Animals with slight structural and/or movement problems;

3 = Severe structural problems, unable to get up or walk.

Hoof integrity was scored as follows:

1 = No obvious lesions or cracks;

2 = Slight lesions on the foot pad and/or between toes;

3 = Severe hoof cracking and lesions on the foot pad and/or between toes.

Lesion scores were recorded on Day 1 (before mixing) and every 14 days until farrowing.

Finally, the vocalization (noise level) was recorded using a data-logging sound meter set to a frequency weighted to be similar to the human ear. This mode is typically used for environmental noise measurements, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulatory testing, law enforcement and workplace design. Sound meters were positioned at about 6 in. from the feed drop and 3.28 ft. above the feeding area in sow pens only.

What the Trials Showed

The adjoining tables and graphs provide data and details of the findings, but the Kansas State researchers offered these thoughts:

  • Feeding frequency did not influence total or proportional sow removal for reproductive failure. Although relatively few sows were removed for structural problems, more sows in the 2x/day feeding were removed compared to the 6x/day feeding. Feeding frequency did not affect the number of gilts removed for either reason.

  • Sow weight and backfat gains were similar in both treatments (Table 2 and Table 3). Feeding frequency did not affect weight gain in gilts either, but gilts fed 6x/day tended to have higher average daily gains. However, gilts fed 6x/day gained P2 backfat, while those fed 2x/day lost backfat, resulting in a 0.04 in. difference on Day 42. After the 42-day grouping, all gilts lost about 0.04 in. of backfat, but the 42-day difference was maintained until the end of the gestation period.

  • Feeding frequency did not affect reproductive performance as measured by number born alive, stillbirths or mummies in sows or gilts (Table 4).

  • Aggressiveness scores were higher in sows fed 2x/day vs. 6x/day (Table 5). Sows fed 6x/day had fewer structural problems, although scores were generally good. The same held true for gilts.

  • Sows fed 6x/day had lower skin and vulva lesion scores and lower feet and leg lesion injury scores compared to those fed 2x/day (Table 5). Scores did not differ in gilts.

  • Vocalization tended to be higher for sows fed 6x/day, and was highest during their afternoon feedings (Figure 1 & Figure 2). It is important to note that vocalization was only measured at feeding times; therefore, it is not surprising that more feeding events led to more vocalization.

Kansas State University researchers involved in this field trial included: J.D. Schneider; Mike Tokach; Steve Dritz, DVM; Robert Goodband; Jim Nelssen; and Joel DeRouchey. Contact Tokach at [email protected].

See Table 1

Aggressive Amino Acid Use Helps Offset High Feed Costs

Rapidly rising feed costs has everyone looking for ways to relieve the pain.

Implementing technologies designed to improve feed efficiency or reduce input costs often becomes critical. When implemented correctly, the aggressive use of synthetic amino acids is one such research-proven technology.

As an independent swine nutrition consultant, it surprises me how often this technology is not fully utilized in formulating swine diets. For a number of years, our clients have benefited from the feeding of high levels of synthetic amino acids with no adverse effects.

A closer look at the research, implementation, and cost savings realized from the use of high levels of synthetic amino acids during various phases of swine production is warranted.

Amino Acid Balancing Act

Understanding the relationships of supplemented amino acids to other nutrients and animal requirements is central to developing feeding strategies for all stages of production.

Amino acids are nitrogen-containing organic building blocks needed by all living organisms to synthesize proteins. The quantities and ratios of amino acids consumed daily are of major concern for the growth of lean tissue.

From birth on, all “essential” amino acids are supplied by the diet, while non-essential amino acids are synthesized in the body. Several of the essential amino acids available in a synthetic form include lysine, threonine, valine, tryptophan and DL-methionine, or the substitutes, Methionine Hydroxy Analog (MHA) and Alimet (Novus International). All other essential amino acids must be obtained from dietary protein.

As a nutrient, lysine is the first limiting amino acid in a corn and soybean meal-based swine diet. Therefore, you can add synthetic lysine as an ingredient to the diet and take out a defined amount of soybean meal and lower the overall level of protein.

Synthetic lysine is available in multiple feed-grade sources: L-Lysine HCl (78.8%), Lysine Sulfate (50.7%) and Liquid Lysine (50% and 60%). All sources have been proven efficacious and should be compared on a percent lysine basis.

To better understand the maximum level of synthetic L-Lysine HCl that can be added to swine diets, Kansas State University researchers conducted a study comparing a corn and soybean meal control diet to diets containing incremental levels of L-Lysine HCl. The results indicated no suppression in growth performance in pigs weighing from 65 to 265 lb. when diets contained up to 3 lb. of L-Lysine HCL (Figure 1).

This and other trials effectively illustrate how reducing soybean meal use by approximately 100 lb./ton of complete feed can lower the cost of a diet. One should note that only L-Lysine HCl and corn replaced the soybean meal.

Old Rules May Not Apply

The 3 lb./ton “rule of thumb” has been in place for many years, but with increased availability and relative lower cost for L-Threonine and methionine, strictly adhering to the old rule of thumb may no longer be the most cost-effective way to formulate swine diets.

Three commercial studies were conducted at the University of Missouri looking at the maximum inclusion level of L-Lysine HCl when a source of both synthetic methionine (DL-Methionine or Alimet) and threonine were also added to the diet. Results indicated that up to 7 lb. of L-Lysine HCl could be fed to pigs weighing 60 to 180 lb. (Figure 2, Ratliff 2005). In 2004, Kendall demonstrated that up to 4.5 lb. of L-Lysine could be added to diets for pigs weighing from 200 to 250 lb. Also in 2004, Ratliff showed that up to 8 lb. of L-Lysine HCl could be fed in diets containing ractopamine (Paylean from Elanco Animal Health).

The three trials demonstrate the effectiveness of feeding diets high in the synthetic amino acids lysine, threonine, methionine or Alimet.

Cutting Diet Costs

Figure 3 shows that by using 7 lb. of L-Lysine HCl (plus threonine and methionine) in early grower diets, and transitioning down to 4.5 lb. during late finishing, we can substantially reduce soybean meal levels by approximately 200 lb. and 125 lb., respectively. Furthermore, there is the potential for a similar reduction in soybean meal by utilizing up to 8 lb. of L-Lysine HCl when ractopamine is fed.

Given the current protein prices, substantial cost savings can be realized if high levels of synthetic amino acids are used. Figure 3 also demonstrates the cost of the diet can be reduced $4.41/ton of complete feed by utilizing 3 lb. of L-Lysine HCl compared to a corn and soybean meal diet without synthetic amino acids. Increasing L-Lysine HCl from 3 lb. to 7 lb. and utilizing a methionine and threonine source can realize an additional savings of $2.24/ton. Therefore, in this example, a savings of $6.65 can be realized by feeding these levels of synthetic amino acids.

While these savings are significant, I have witnessed savings nearly twice that amount. How much you save will depend on the relative cost of soybean meal to corn and the price paid for the synthetic amino acids.

Table 1 shows the relationship of the spread between corn and soybean meal and how the cost of synthetic amino acids affects the potential savings on a ton of grower feed. Feeding high levels of synthetic amino acids reduces diet costs, maintains performance and results in a significant reduction in cost per pound of gain.

It's Not Just About Lysine

In order to capture the potential savings with diets containing high levels of synthetic lysine, you must also include a methionine source and an added L-Threonine source. The amount of amino acids to use is determined by the ingredients in the diets and the stage of production. The appropriate ratio of these three amino acids to each other and to other amino acids must also be maintained.

For late-nursery and grower diets, it is generally necessary to supplement higher levels of methionine, whereas in mid- to late-finishing diets, a methionine source may not be necessary.

For example, when distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS) are fed, the amount of synthetic methionine and threonine required, relative to the amount of synthetic lysine, are reduced and the methionine is often not included in the mid- to late-finishing diets.

A potential problem for using high levels of synthetic amino acids may be the method by which producers buy their micro ingredients (i.e., base mixes and premixes). Some mixes contain synthetic lysine and some do not. The more traditional base mixes contain synthetic lysine at levels designed to supply approximately 3 lb./ton in the grower, with less L-Lysine supplied to the finisher diets.

No matter the type of base mix used, the producer should consult with his nutritional supplier to determine ways to feed the higher levels of amino acids. In order to capture the greatest savings, all three amino acids may need to be added at the mixer instead of in the base mix. This also allows flexibility in the sourcing of alternative ingredients to a corn-soybean meal diet.

For some producers, a two base mix program containing high levels of synthetics may be the only alternative to capturing some of the potential savings during the grow-finisher phase. Buying base mixes high in threonine and lysine, then adding methionine by hand, as needed, is another alternative. All options require a little more work than the base mix containing only 3 lb./ton L-Lysine. Whichever the method used, the economic savings are worth the minor trouble.

Two other synthetic amino acids are also commercially available — valine and tryptophan. We do not currently use these two amino acids in grow-finishing diets, but we do use them in nursery diets.

The use of synthetic amino acids at higher than traditional levels in swine diets is a proven technology, which can result in a substantial savings. Producers and buying groups that purchase sufficient quantities of these synthetic amino acids generally are able to capture a greater portion of the potential savings.

Of Trends and Such

About three years ago, I noted in some presentations and articles that the long-term trend for cash hog prices appeared to have turned. In spite of the recent dip in prices, I still think that trend is true, so I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the forces that drive trends and how they might apply to our current situation.

Figure 1 shows weekly Iowa-Minnesota cash hog prices since 1973. The data do not represent the exact same price quotes for that entire period, since USDA has changed the way it reports prices on several occasions. Some adjustments were made to make the series fit together, but I believe they are reasonable adjustments and certainly do not change the long-run nature of the price trends shown.

Trends are one of three normal patterns impacting prices, the other two being seasonal and cyclical patterns. Trends are usually multi-year shifts in price levels, which when compared to the others, are more gradual in nature. Where business cycles and decisions drive cycles, and forces related to seasons (temperature, day length, precipitation, etc.) drive seasonal variation, far more basic forces drive trends.

The only three forces that can sustain a price trend are inflation, sustained changes in demand, and costs. Figure 1 shows all of three in one manner or another.

The rising prices of the late ’70s were driven by growth in meat demand and inflation. The lessening of inflation and downward pressure on meat demand caused the flattening of prices in the ’80s and early ’90s. The down trending prices of the late ’90s and early part of this decade were caused by adoption of new technologies that drove down the cost of raising hogs and processing them into pork.

Some would argue with the last point, perhaps saying that the real reason prices fell was packer consolidation, captive hog supplies and a number of other structural “ills” that conspired against hog producers. Those things can happen, but the net effect of such price declines in the absence of cost declines would be a reduction (perhaps a dramatic one) of hog numbers. We know that was not the case as hog numbers and pork production trended steadily upward, even during these years of downward trending prices. Only one thing can allow that result – falling industry costs.

Why has the trend changed?
Again, it’s a combination of the forces that drive trends. The first driver was the meat and pork demand improvement of 2004. Low-carb, high-protein, Atkins-type diets did a world of good for meat demand and got many Americans back in the habit of being carnivores – or at least the natural omnivores that we are!

But demand softened dramatically in 2006, driving prices lower and threatening the newly formed uptrend. The adoption of circovirus vaccines is the kind of technological advancement that usually means lower costs and a downtrend of prices. But I think it is clear that the increase in the prices of production inputs will offset the higher efficiency we have gained from these effective vaccines.

Higher grain prices are only part of the picture. Fuel, steel, cement, lumber – you name it – it’s higher today than just a couple of years ago. These price increases will moderate and perhaps reverse at some point, but the foreseeable future holds higher costs and, I think, a continuation of the up trend in hog prices. I believe it is very likely that we will see record-high prices in 2010 and beyond.

It doesn’t take a math wizard to see that higher costs and higher prices do not likely add up to any higher profits. Let’s just hope profits remain as good as they have been in the past.

Lest anyone be celebrating last week’s “relatively small” 4.9% year-over-year increase for federally inspected hog slaughter, realize that it is caused by last year’s March surge in slaughter – not a reduction in this year’s slaughter levels. As can be seen in Figure 1, the second week of March 2007 saw a big increase in slaughter, which was driven in part by storm-shortened slaughter runs the prior week.

It now appears that it was also the first evidence of the impact the circovirus vaccines would have. The vaccines were first available for commercial use during the fall of 2006. While not enough vaccine was available to meet demand, it did get used on several hundred thousand pigs (though sometimes at just half the recommended dosage). Those pigs, by all reports, grew much faster than non-vaccinates and reached slaughter earlier. That pulled pigs out of April slaughter and into March and showed up as a surge in March slaughter, then began “tailing off” in April and May. As more and more vaccine became available, slaughter runs began to grow during the summer and then exploded in September – a data commensurate with the full availability of circovirus vaccines in late June and July.

The moral to that story is that we are now comparing slaughter runs of vaccinated pigs to runs of “partially-vaccinated” pigs in 2007. The year-over-year percentages will be smaller, but the actual slaughter totals will still be record-large for the weeks in question.

Click to view graphs.

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

Special Report from National Pork Industry Forum part 3

Pork Act Delegates Elect Board Members,
Vote on Pork Checkoff Resolutions
Pork Act delegates from across the United States attended National Pork Industry Forum, March 6-8, in St. Louis, MO. Delegates held elections and discussed industry-related advisements and resolutions during their annual business meeting.
“This is a great opportunity for producers across the nation to come together and work together on issues that are going to affect the pork industry,” stated Pork Board President Lynn Harrison, a pork producer from Elk Mound, WI.

The theme for this year’s forum – “Owning our future, the choices we face,” – was reinforced by delegate action to adopt a set of “ethical principles for U.S. pork producers” as a statement of producer beliefs and their obligation to demonstrate those beliefs in a manner that will earn the trust of consumers and regulators of the pork industry, Harrison explained.

Pork Act delegates have three specific duties under the Pork Act, which includes recommending the rate of the pork checkoff, setting the percentage of checkoff funds that is returned to states, and nominating producers and/or importers for appointment to the National Pork Board and to the Checkoff Nominating Committee. Recommendations for appointments to the National Pork Board are sent to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, who makes the final determination.

In voting on National Pork Board members, eight pork producers were ranked for consideration by the Secretary of Agriculture. From those eight, the secretary will appoint five producers to serve three-year terms. The appointments are typically announced in the summer. The nominees, as ranked by the delegates, include:

• Roy Henry, Kansas
• Conley Nelson, Iowa
• Alan Wilhoite, Indiana
• Brian Zimmerman, Nebraska
• Karen Richter, Minnesota
• Dale Norton, Michigan
• Jamey Tosh, Tennessee
• Curtis Meier, Iowa

Pork Act Delegates also elected Wayne Peugh, Edelstein, IL, and William Kessler, Mexico, MO to two-year terms on the Pork Board Nominating Committee.

During the annual meeting, Harrison reminded delegates: “The Pork Act assigns the National Pork Board full responsibility for managing all checkoff-related matters except those assigned to Pork Act delegates. However, the Pork Board has invited Pork Act delegates to provide input and advice to the board on any checkoff-related matter. All motions related to Pork Board-managed programs are called ‘Pork Act delegate advisements,’ since they are advisory only and not binding to the board.”

In voting, Pork Act delegates adopted the following “advisements,” asking the National Pork Board to:
  • Adopt the document “Ethical Principles for U.S. Pork Producers.”
  • Move rapidly to address misinformation on the pork industry in the media.
  • Seek out additional funding opportunities for educational activities.
  • Endorse the long-range goal for agricultural education to create new programs in communities not yet served by agricultural education and FFA.
  • Support all Pork Quality Assurance Plus™ (PQA Plus™) swine production practices and vigorously advocate those swine production practices in a cooperative manner with industry partners.
  • Support the use of sound science to serve as the basis for developing standards for animal husbandry; and asks all producers to complete the PQA Plus program over the next three years.
  • Support scientific studies that include on-farm research and focus on wells and potential contamination issues.
  • Implement programming to work toward increasing domestic pork expenditures over the next three years.
  • Request that the USDA develop a process whereby the Secretary of Agriculture can approve Pork Act Alternates at the same time the secretary appoints the Pork Act delegates.

In addition, Pork Act delegates debated a Minnesota Pork Board resolution to increase the national rate of the Pork Checkoff from 40 cents/$100 value of pork sold, to 42.5 cents/$100 value of pork sold.

“We wanted to make sure all delegates had a chance to voice their opinions prior acting upon this resolution,” explained Harrison.

After considerable debate, it was moved to refer the checkoff-rate resolution to the National Pork Board for further consideration by a working group representing the interests of state pork associations. The working group will ensure that the checkoff-rate question be brought before each state for review before the issue is brought before the 2009 Pork Act Delegate body.

Pork Act Delegates are pork producers or importers nominated by their state pork producer associations or individually, then appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture. Each state may be represented by at least two Pork Act delegates. The number of delegates and the voting shares of each delegate are determined by the amount of checkoff monies collected from each state.

In 2008, the Secretary of Agriculture appointed 155 pork producers and eight importers to the Pork Act delegate body. States are not required to submit nominees. Three states did not. Four other states submitted only one nominee. Importer representation is based on assessments on imported pork and pork products.

Environmental Stewards Recognized at Pork Forum
The latest class of Environmental Steward award winners was recognized at the National Pork Industry Forum in St. Louis, MO on March 8. The program is co-sponsored by National Hog Farmer magazine and Pork Checkoff. The winners exemplify excellence in environmental care and conservation in pork production.

“The geographic and pork production management diversity represented by our winners is impressive,” said Dale Miller, editor of National Hog Farmer. “They represent pork producers’ remarkable efforts to incorporate the latest science and technology to capture the fertilizer value of swine manure – a significant contribution to the natural, sustainable production of food and fiber in our energy-conscious world. Additionally, they are excellent examples of pork producers’ constant focus on guarding our valuable air, water and land resources, while securing pork’s future in American agriculture.”
Honored during a special ceremony at Pork Forum were:

  • Keppy Farms, Durant, IA (Loren and Jeantee Keppy);
  • M & J Farms, Hadley, MN (Mike Haupert);
  • Meadowlane Farms, Frankfort, IN (Mike Beard); and
  • Wakefield Farms, Turpin, OK (represented by Don Owens).

Environmental steward award winners receive a plaque in recognition for their strong environmental ethic. Their stories were featured in the Sept. 15, 2007 edition of National Hog Farmer magazine, and in a special report in the Pork Checkoff Report. A special video – “Stewards of the Land” – is also produced and distributed by the National Pork Board. To view the video, go to or Copies of the video are also available by calling (800) 456-PORK or see to order.

The National Pork Board is receiving applications and nominations for 2008 Pork Industry Environmental Steward Award winners. The deadline is March 31, 2008. The next class of environmental stewards will be honored at the National Pork Industry Forum in 2009. More information, as well as applications, can be found online at or or by calling (800) 456-PORK.

Special Report from National Pork Industry Forum part 2

Past President Inducted into NPPC Hall of Fame
Donna Reifschneider, a pork producer from Smithton, IL, was inducted in the National Pork Producers Council Hall of Fame, in recognition of her years of service and leadership in the industry.

Reifschneider was elected the first female president of NPPC in 1998 and helped the U.S. pork industry recover from the disastrous hog markets of ’98-’99. In addition to initiating an industry recovery plan, she was actively involved in the pseudorabies eradication program and worked to expand pork export markets.

In addition to her service to NPPC, Reifschneider served on the executive committee of the U.S. Meat Export Federation from 1999-2002 and in 2002 was named administrator of the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration. She left the agency in 2002 to return to the family’s farm in Illinois.

“Donna Reifschneider was a pioneer for women in the pork industry and led it through some trying times,” noted Jill Appell, NPPC president. “She has been a friend and mentor, and for her wisdom, leadership, vision and strength, she has been inducted into the NPPC Hall of Fame.”

Iowa State Veterinarian Honored
With Distinguished Service Award
Pork Checkoff honored James McKean, DVM, and professor at Iowa State University, Ames, IA with its Distinguished Service award during Pork Industry Forum festivities. McKean, an Extension veterinarian also serves as associate director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center, was recognized for his lifelong contributions to the pork industry.

“Jim is an exceptional player in the pork industry,” said Lynn Harrison, National Pork Board president. "He is a person that is dedicated to the industry as a whole, dedicated to the local producers and dedicated to the local community. He has participated in several of the National Pork Board programs that have been developed and he really has helped advance the industry."

McKean is most notably known for his work in disease control and eradication programs. He was a pivotal player in the eradication of pseudorabies in Iowa and the United States. McKean has authored many peer-reviewed articles on subjects ranging from mycoplasmal pneumonia, to coronavirus antibodies, to campylobacter enterocolitis and salmonella infections.

“Jim certainly has a passion for the industry, and it’s also very evident that whenever Jim is in a meeting, there is a level of passion for the producer, for the farm, and for the veterinarian that works on the farm,” added Paul Sundberg, vice president of science and technology at the National Pork Board.

New NPPC Officers, Board Members Elected
Ohio pork producer Bryan Black from Canal Winchester was elected president of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) during the organization’s annual meeting.

Black, as member of the NPPC board of directors the past five years, is involved in a 300-sow, 500-acre farming operation, has been active in his state’s Farm Bureau and soybean council. He will serve a one-year term as president.
Don Butler, director of government relations and public affairs for Murphy-Brown, LLC, Warsaw, NC, will serve as president-elect for the coming year.

Iowa pork producer Sam Carney from Adair was elected vice president. He is owner-operator of Carney Farms, Inc., which markets 6,000 hogs annually. Carney has served in various pork industry leadership positions over the past 20 years, including a term as president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

In addition, the following will serve on the NPPC board of directors: Kathy Chinn, Clarence, MO; Bob Dykhuis, Holland, MI; R.C. Hunt, Wilson, NC; Larry Liepold, Okabena, MN; Randy Spronk, Edgerton, MN; Doug Wolf, Lancaster, WI; and Todd Neff, Dakota Dunes, SD (Pork Producer Industry Council representative). Jill Appell, Altona, IL, will serve as immediate past president.

Producers C. Ray Noecker, OH; E. Ray Summerlin, Jr., Rose Hill, NC; and Todd Wiley, Walker, IA, were elected to the NPPC Nominating Committee, which reviews the credentials of candidates for the organization’s board of directors.