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Disadvantaged Pigs Need More Attention

The one production number that any wean-to-finish or finisher manager easily collects is the number of deads. But don't forget to routinely assess the full impact of attrition — the number of culls, lights and deads.

The disconnect between grow-finish staff and marketing results means the significance of culls and lights on the bottom line can be easily overlooked. The entire production team needs to focus on producing full-value pigs and to understand three factors:

First, high mortality alerts everyone. Owners see dollars down the drain and frustrated workers as they remove dead pigs. However, it's important to realize a gradual increase in dead pigs or an above-average number of culls and lights may go undetected.

Second, records systems aren't uniform in assessing culls, lights and deads. It's important to know what the numbers reflect. Does the farm's full-value pigs calculation include mortality? Are weights of pigs recorded for accurate calculation of the costs associated with attrition?

Third, numerous causes of attrition can increase the complexity of the problem. Many noninfectious causes such as nutrition, environmental factors and genetics can be involved. Infectious causes can include porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), ileitis, Mycoplasmal pneumonia, circovirus and salmonellosis.

Case Study No. 1

A Midwest farm had good closeout records in 2006, producing 94.4% full-value pigs from feeder to finish. This number included 1.9% death loss and 3.7% lights and culls. The farm was PRRS-naïve, and pigs were vaccinated only for mycoplasma.

With the dramatic appearance of porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) in 2007, the farm staff was watching for any obvious clinical signs, and we were happy none were evident (high mortality, skin lesions, wasting pigs).

However, the farm did note a gradual increase in mortalities, culls and lights in 2007. Samples were collected from some fall-behind pigs and the diagnosis for PCV2 was met. Due to cost and vaccine availability, it was decided to only vaccinate the sow herd. By the end of 2007, the percentage of full-value pigs decreased to 91.5%, with 3.2% mortality and 5.3% culls/lights.

As pig groups from PCV2-vaccinated sows closed out, the number of full-value pigs increased, but there was more value to be gained from PCV2 control. Diagnostics indicated PCV2 was still affecting pigs.

During mid-2008, some pigs were vaccinated and compared with unvaccinated groups. The results convinced the farm to initiate a pig vaccination program for PCV2 in the fall of 2008. The closeout summary for 2008 (sows vaccinated) did show improvement over 2007, with 94.3% full-value pigs compared to 2007's 91.5%. There was a reduction in the percentage of both deads (2008, 2.3%) and culls/lights (2008, 3.4%) compared to the group of unvaccinated sows in 2007.

The numbers for 2009 will be evaluated for cost-effectiveness. This case demonstrates the value of good records and diagnostics in establishing health protocols to increase the number of full-value pigs.

Case Study No. 2

A 900-sow, breed-to-wean herd in Indiana produces pigs for off-site, wean-to-finish barns. This herd is PRRS-naïve and pigs are vaccinated for mycoplasma. Farm closeouts had acceptable numbers of cull pigs until one group closed out with 5% culls. The next group was back to normal at less than 1.5%, so the producer was not overly concerned.

However the next two closeouts had 3.5% and then 7.5% culls and lights. Examination revealed several pigs with multiple swollen joints, stiff gait and arched back. These pigs were obviously gaining very poorly. Erysipelas was cultured from the joints of affected pigs at our lab and confirmed at the diagnostic laboratory.

Pigs with the typical “diamond-shaped” skin lesions had never been observed in this finisher. The sow herd was routinely vaccinated for erysipelas; skin lesions were never observed. Water-based vaccination of 11-to 12-week-old pigs was initiated, and nine closeouts averaged only 1.7% culls and lights. Before vaccination, nine closeouts averaged 3.6% culls.

This case demonstrates the insidious nature of some disease problems that can cause an increase in cull and light pigs. It also points out the need to closely review closeouts for trends in conjunction with the clinical pattern in the pigs.


It is well accepted that disease problems can increase mortality and, thus, profitability in swine production systems. What may be overlooked are the opportunities to increase the number of full-value pigs by reducing culls and lights. It is important to investigate management factors and health problems. Good records and diagnostics are essential to instituting health protocols with a high probability for increasing the number of full-value pigs sold.

Simple Steps to Save More Pigs

Morgan Hill farm manager Jeff Coby likes things easy and simple. His philosophy to boosting pig numbers is to let the sows do the work. He helps out only when needed, allowing nature to take its course.

Hog barns at the 500-sow, farrow-to-finish operation at Winamac, IN, are kept clean as a whistle. In the sow barns, manure is scraped out right after all farrowings, and alleys are swept after each of the twice-a-day feedings.

Coby says when things are kept neat, clean and repaired, the five employees on staff have better attitudes and are more focused on raising more pigs.

Production is very good; the farm weaned 28.3 pigs/sow/year (p/s/y) for the last year or so and marketed 27.1 p/s/y, farm veterinarian Tom Gillespie of Rensselaer, (IN) Swine Services reports. Preweaning mortality averaged 4.2% on over 12,000 pigs marketed the last 12 months.

To achieve those results, the farm staff works hard to reduce the biggest causes of pig losses: laid-ons and runts. To stop crushing, the bar on farrowing crates was moved to the lowest position so sows can't roll over onto pigs so easily.

Dealing with runts is more involved, but has brought positive results. “We keep the runts (unless they are tiny) and work with them. A lot of people argue the runts aren't worth the trouble. My argument is on this farm we make it work and it is worth it,” Coby says.

Management steps for producing quality pigs include:

  • Pigs are crossfostered to equalize litters on sows the day after farrowing. “We try to minimize fostering, but we use it when we have to and we still see it as a pretty big tool to save little pigs,” Coby explains. “We like to have second- or third-parity sows with smaller teats for the smaller pigs to suckle.”

  • Electrolytes mixed with water and feed to create “mush” is another big tool to help save runt pigs.

  • A milk replacer pan placed on the floor behind farrowing crates is used for groups that need help achieving bloom.

    “We mix it up in a bucket and put it in cups on the floor until pigs take off, then we take it away and rely on the nurse sow,” he explains. Sows are made to work to stimulate milk flow and keep all of their teats functional. Runt pigs are not kept on milk replacer too long because it is expensive and becomes a management crutch.

  • Rubber mats and heat lamps are preferred over heat mats. If the lamps are on, then the mats are working to keep pigs toasty, removing the guesswork.

  • Sometimes healthy pigs will be weaned off a nurse sow and placed in a holding area in the room alley, while another group of small pigs are placed to nurse her until they are ready to wean.

Routine keeps Morgan Hill functioning smoothly, from adjusting sow feeders every Wednesday for sow condition to breeding and weaning on Thursdays. “We are small enough that we can do that, and it keeps everybody focused on doing their jobs. That way we can make sure we always have the best person available for the job,” Coby says.

The Right Diet At the Right Time

Driven by high corn and protein prices in 2008, Gary Thome and sons, Matt and Pat, have invested in a system of robotic hardware, wireless communication capabilities and a comprehensive feeding software package for Matt's new, 2,400-head, grow-finish barn aimed at getting the right feed to the right pigs at the right time. Retrospectively, even as feed costs have moderated, the Thomes feel the Feedlogic FeedSaver S (stationary) series system will pay for itself within two years.

Tucked in the rafters between the two rooms of the double-wide barn near Adams, MN, is the FeedSaver feed blending and delivery system. Four, 14-ton bins — two filled with a high-lysine base diet, two filled with a low-lysine base diet — are positioned at the end of the 122 × 164 ft. facility to move the base diets to the FeedSaver blending hopper.

When 45-50-lb. pigs are placed, gilts are loaded on one side of the barn, barrows on the other. The racetrack design from Hen-Way Mfg., Inc., Fairmont, MN, naturally creates pig movement in a clockwise direction through a series of four, one-way gates and pens, which eventually leads to a water court and an Automated Production Systems (AP) auto-sort scale.

During the first two weeks, pigs are put through training paces by moving them down one pen each day. After the fourth pen, pigs cycle back through the water court and the weigh scale — their only route back to the feeders.

Each side of the barn is divided into two major pen segments. The east pen, equipped with six, 8-hole, wet-dry feeders and water stations, claims one-third of the space, while the west portion accounts for two-thirds of the space and features four large pens with 15 wet-dry feeders running down the center of the pens, including supplemental water stations.

With the one-way gates locked open, pigs move freely from pen to pen the first week after stocking. The next week, the one-way gates are reset and pigs are moved through the pens to get them in the habit of moving through the barn.

Stocked with 1,000-1,200 pigs per side, the scales record 900-1,000 “hits” per day, indicating roughly 85% of the pigs cycle through once the routine is established. Of course, there's no way of knowing if the hits are exclusive, but Matt Thome feels it's unlikely that many pigs make more than one complete cycle per day. As pigs pass through the scale, it captures a running average weight of the pigs in the room.

The one-third, two-thirds barn split is at the heart of the design because the scale sorts the lighter pigs to the small pen where feeders contain a higher lysine diet.

“At first I just used the average weight from the prior day and set the scale to sort the ‘below average’ pigs to the small pen,” Matt explains. “The pen was too crowded, so I tried sorting off pigs that were 5 lb. lighter than the average. Then, there were too few pigs in the pen, so I settled at 3 lb. lighter than the average, which sorts off about one-fourth of the pigs. The stocking density is lower than the large end pens, an added benefit because the smaller pigs are usually less competitive at the feeder.”

Diet Changes On-the-fly

Swine nutritionist John Goihl, AgriNutrition, Inc., Shakopee, MN, has developed a multiphase feeding program using Feedlogic's feed consumption curves. Diets are tailored to gilt and barrows, respectively.

“John has calculated the very first feed the pigs should get and the very last feed pigs should get,” explains Gary Thome. “The system blends a different percentage of the first and last diet every day. So, the pigs start out at 100% of the first feed and as they grow, the percentage changes to 100% of the last feed as they reach market weight.”

“If you are sorting pigs by weight and you are feeding Phase 2 and 3 diets, then the light pigs are sorted to the small pen with the Phase 2 diet, and the rest get the Phase 3 diet,” Goihl explains. As the pigs approach the middle of the growth curve — between 120 and 150 lb. — they are receiving a 50-50 blend of the two diets.

The high and low diets are balanced using similar levels of synthetic-L lysine, which provides a consistent level of the amino acid regardless of the blending levels. “The Feedlogic system is driven by feed consumption, like any phased-feeding program using weights against standard feed consumption,” Goihl explains. “The multiphase diets are allocated to specific pig weight ranges easily tracked by the weigh scale.”

The process is seamless because the system is always using the same two base diets. Added benefits include fewer diets to manufacture and the flexibility to create different feeding programs suited to feed ingredient costs and pig performance requirements.

Next Page: First Closeout

Previous Page: Diet Changes On-the-fly

As the Thomes launched into the first turn in the new barn, Matt consulted regularly with Feedlogic's Drew Ryder. Feed intake data from Kansas State University and other sources helped establish a working feed consumption/growth curve.

“We had to tweak the curve a little bit the first time through to get the pigs back on the curve where they should be at a specific weight,” Matt explains. “As we refine the curve, we will be able to adjust for winter/summer and other variables. Every turn presents different challenges — time of year, pig health, stocking density — but I think the more turns we have, the more predictable their growth curves will become.”

“There's a ton of management to this facility compared to the average grow-finish barn,” Gary Thome explains. “But if we weren't feeding on a curve, about half the time we'd be over-feeding and half the time we'd be under-feeding a diet.

“Last summer's $7/bu. corn and higher soybean meal prices drove us to look at the better environmental control of tunnel-ventilated barns and more efficient use of feed. We need to get as much out of every bit of feed that those pigs eat — and we need to put it into pork and not burn it up by the pigs trying to stay warm,” he says.

First Closeout

The first group of single-source pigs was marketed 85 days after placement, the last 24 days later (Table 1). The 2,408 barrows and gilts averaged 50 lb. going into the barn and 270.2 lb. at market. Average daily gain for the group was an impressive 2.15 lb./day, with 32 mortalities subtracted as they occurred. Average daily feeding intake was 5.9 lb. for the complete turn, for a feed:gain ratio of 2.74. The feed-use summary showed 40.12% high-lysine diet and 59.88% low-lysine diet was fed during the turn. Feed cost averaged 10 cents/lb., with a cost/lb. of gain at 29 cents.

“This was an excellent closeout compared to the industry average,” Goihl notes. Matt Thome agrees, noting it could have been even better if the pigs could have been scheduled for delivery to the packer on a timelier basis.

Carcass weights edged upward in the fifth through eleventh loads sold. “Eighty-five percent hit Hormel's red box; if I could have averaged 200-lb. carcasses, I could have placed 90% in the red box,” Matt assures. Hormel's preferred (red box) carcass weight range is 167-229 lb. with less than 1.10 in. of backfat.

Matt attributes the impressive first closeout to the high health and even weights of the pigs coming out of the nursery. “Part of it was we gave the smaller pigs an opportunity to catch up by not forcing them to eat what the ‘average’ population was eating,” he says.

The second group placed in the barn has had some health challenges. “They had a PRRS-related (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) challenge, so I expected a huge range in weight. Some were sick, got over it and took off, but some may be chronically sick and not grow as fast. I think this system is going to pay for itself in a different way this time in that the less thrifty pigs are sorted off to get a better diet with less competition at the feeders,” he explains.

Pat Thome has a grow-finish barn with the same design except it has conventional feeders and a standard phase-feeding program. His barn will serve as a “control” barn to compare to performance in the FeedSaver-equipped barn over the next several repetitions.

Learning Curve, Payback

Matt Thome says the remote capability of the Feedlogic system is another advantage, because he can track feed consumption on his laptop from anywhere Internet access is available.

“I know what's in those bins all of the time,” he explains. “I can order feed 3-4 days ahead of time because I know what was in the bins yesterday and I know exactly how much of the high-lysine and low-lysine rations they eat daily, so I can predict when the bins will be empty.”

When the system is blending 50-50, high- and low-lysine diets, it delivers about 1,800 lb. of feed/hour. Toward the end of a finishing cycle, a drawback is the system can barely keep up when the pigs are eating nearly 100% low- lysine diet.

“Having a big hopper at the feeder is a big deal. Our feeders hold roughly 280 lb./feeder, so if we start with full feeders at 5 a.m. and the pigs hit the feeders all day long, the system is running almost constantly (to keep the feeders full) for about 20 hours/day. The feeders will not fill up until after midnight when activity begins to die down,” he says.

The Thomes plan to add another bin to meet the high feed demands toward the end of each turn. “It won't get feed to them any faster, but it will ensure we have enough feed on a three-day weekend,” Matt explains.

Next Page: Nursery Application

Previous Page: First Closeout

Typically, there are 150-200 pigs/pen in the large-pen area. If a feeder plugs or if Matt turns feeders off to check them — which he does a couple of times during each turn — the pigs leave those pens.

And, because there are essentially no aisles in the barn, “You have to walk the pens to check feeders and waterers, so the pigs get used to you,” Matt explains.

The large pens seem to suit the pigs, too. “From a pig comfort and pig welfare standpoint, there's next to no tail biting and lameness. Pigs don't get picked on or beat up because they can leave a pen anytime they want,” he adds.

“I think feed cost is the biggest issue we face,” adds Gary Thome. “Looking long term, if we can have a feed savings of 1.5 cents/lb., which some Australian work shows, and if average gain is 200 lb./pig, that's $2.50-3.00/pig — a realistic goal.

“Another advantage we have is we're a family operation and I feel very comfortable that we've got the management and expertise to get the most out of this system. With the way the industry is headed, one of the strategic advantages we have is management, so we need to capitalize on that,” he adds.

Nursery Application

Mark Schaefer, Taopi, MN, owner and manager of an 850-sow, farrow-to-finish operation, has completed six turns in a pair of 1,000-head nursery rooms equipped with a Feedlogic FeedSaver M (mobile) series system.

Of the six turns, Schaefer has data summarized on five. Table 2 summarizes the Turn #5 closeout.

The M-series differs in that it features a fixed rail mounted to the room's ceiling. A self-propelled feed hopper rides the rail and stops over each feeder, positioned by sensors mounted in the ceiling.

From the central computer bay positioned at the end of a hallway dividing the nursery rooms, Schaefer easily accesses two software modules. The control module allows him to manage and monitor the system. A customized virtual barn view displays the pen layout in each room, which allows him to manage the diet, time and frequency of feed delivery. A data module generates reports on feeding activities and tracks the diets offered. A wide area network (WAN) provides off-site access to the on-site, wireless network.

As each room is loaded, pigs are sorted by sex and into three categories — lights, standards and heavies. With a 20-pen diagrammed worksheet in hand, he goes to the computer and clicks on each pen in the virtual layout, placing it in one of the three categories.

The feed consumption curve is developed with the assistance of a Land O'Lakes swine nutritionist, tailoring it to the herd's typical feed consumption during the nursery stage with a little tweaking for genetics changes, as needed. Once placed on the curve, the pigs progressively move through three primary diets, transitioning from one to the next as they meet respective benchmark weights.

“The feeding curve is preset, so all I have to decide is which curve to start them on,” Schaefer explains. “In turn #5, the heavies get 1.0 lb., the standards get 1.2 lb., and the lights get 1.8 lb. of the pelleted diet (Table 3). “When they move to the transition (second) diet, the heavies get 3 lb., the standards get 4.2 lb. and the lights get 5.1 lb. of the grind-and-mix diet.”

Occasionally, a pen of extra light pigs is placed in the nursery, so the feeding system is programmed to skip their pen feeder so Schaefer can bag feed Land O'Lakes' Ultra Care pellets for 3-4 days before placing them on the feed consumption curve.

“The thing I watch the closest is making sure the pigs weigh at least 15 lb. before they move onto the transition diet,” he notes. This is accomplished by hand-weighing a few pigs in a pen to ensure they've reached the target weight. The procedure is repeated as pig weights approach 20 lb., the step in the feeding curve where each pig receives about 7 lb. of “high” blend.

The steps that follow continue along the curve, with the next blend being 90% high/10% low diet, then 80/20, 70/30 and so on until the last 10 days in the nursery when pigs receive 100% of low blend diet.

Feed, Pig Management

From 20-40 lb., the pigs are on high-low diet blends, but after 40 lb., they receive the low blend exclusively. Schaefer pulls out the nursery closeout sheet for the fifth turn on the FeedSaver system to illustrate a point: “The difference in costs between the high and low diets is $189/ton. The quicker I can get them switched over, the better,” he notes.

Next Page: Five-turn Summary

Previous Page: Nursery Application

“The most obvious thing is I can help the little pigs — the lights. Typically, you feed for the middle of the road, so the big ones get overfed and the small ones fall further behind. Those little pigs will do just fine if you get them on the right feed, early on, and you give them a little more of it,” he explains.

Schaefer estimates he saves 75 cents to $1/pig/turn. With each of the 1,000-head nursery rooms turned eight times per year, the net savings could be up to $16,000 annually. His feed costs are calculated on $3.50/bu. corn and $310 soybean meal, admittedly a little high, “but they're my actual costs,” he explains. “Any way you figure it, 60-70% of the cost of raising a pig is feed, so anything you can do to lower those costs is worthwhile.

“And, I think we will pick up more savings in the finisher because the nursery pigs are more even going in,” he says. The first set of the FeedSaver-fed nursery pigs were being closed out in a nearby finisher in mid-May. “I think we will have just seven light pigs in the 800-head barn,” he says. “I think I can take a week off of the tail-enders pretty easily by getting the light pigs caught up in the nursery. Everyone talks about barn utilization and evening out groups and I think we are accomplishing that pretty well.”

Five-turn Summary

Schaefer is particularly impressed by how quickly feed cost/lb. of gain can be calculated when a nursery room is closed out. The five-turn summary (Table 4) shows daily gain performance at or near 1 lb./day, which he attributes in part to feeding the lighter pigs better. “Any time you get close to a pound of gain per day — and you can do it in about 40 days — it's pretty good, particularly when most pigs gain about 0.85 lb./day in 50 days. That's about where we were before,” he explains. “My Land O'Lakes nutritionist tells me these closeouts are in the top 10% of the numbers they see.”

He gives some credit for the improved nursery performance to his switch to batch farrowing, which has given him healthier pigs vs. the co-mingled pigs placed previously.

Schaefer is anticipating a two-year payback on his investment. “Instead of getting bigger and bigger, I would just as soon get the best out of everything I've got,” he says. “You can't argue with the concept — it's the right way to feed pigs.”

Drew Ryder, product manager at Feed Logic Corporation, says a FeedSaver-M series unit installed in a 2,000-head nursery comparable to Schaefer's would cost about $34,000 today. A FeedSaver-S series, with feed blending capabilities similar to the Thomes' 2,400-head, grow-finish unit, would bid out at roughly $21,000. Additional operational and contact information is available.

Case Study: Training Means More Pigs Survive

When Sarah Probst Miller, DVM, and Carthage Veterinary Service (CVS) staff first started work to fix a troubled Illinois hog farm, the farm's preweaning mortality was 15-17%, stillborn rate was 8-9% and pig variation at weaning was high.

With a lot of training and working with employees and using critical care techniques, the CVS staff helped the farm reduce its stillborn rate to 3-4%, and its preweaning mortality to 7-8%.

Training improved performance, Miller explains. But as it turned out, the main problem was that the wrong employee was working in farrowing. Once a change was made, performance improved to 29 pigs/sow/year (psy), vs. 23 psy the previous year.

“Some farms can change things right away with the right tools and knowledge — but if it is not happening, maybe that employee is a very good employee, but maybe their strengths are in other areas of production and a change needs to be made,” Miller says.

CVS' Training Toolboxes software enables veterinary staff to use a Web site to review understanding on specific lessons and tasks via quiz scores, monitor results over time and thus drive interventions on the farm. Followup visits to the farm guide interventions and further training.

Reducing Pig Transport Losses

A prominent industry representative once posed the question: “If 99% of the hogs marketed are successfully transported to the slaughter facility without injury, fatigue or death, should producers be concerned with 1% transport loss?”

Most businesses would be satisfied with a 99% success rate. But in these exceedingly tight financial times, even this very small fraction serves as an opportunity to deliver more full-value pigs by curtailing transport losses and unwitting mortalities.

An Iowa State University (ISU) study of over two million pigs, in collaboration with a Midwestern pork producer, reported that 0.85% of those transported to a commercial processing plant were fatigued, injured or prematurely dead (summed to equal transport losses). Ultimately, this yielded approximately 17,000 pigs with potential for reduced value.

In addition, a recent review of 22 field trials included 27,240 trailer loads of pigs transported to U.S. slaughter plants between 2000 and 2007. The review by Matt Ritter, Elanco Animal Health, recorded loss averages between 0.14 to 2.4% per trailer load.

Clearly, transport to market is the worst time to incur pig losses because the cost of feed, labor, medicine and capital investment has been accumulated.

Transport losses are described as the sum of fatigued, injured and dead pigs during transport to the processing facility or during lairage (the time of rest at the plant before slaughter).

Fatigued pigs exhibit blotchy red skin, muscle tremors and a reluctance to move. If federal legislation prohibits fatigued (or nonambulatory) pigs from entering the human food supply, as is the case in cattle, those pigs would have little if any value.

Injured pigs may incur reduced value if a portion or the entire carcass is condemned. Of course, dead pigs have no market value, often leaving producers to cover the cost of carcass disposal when death occurs during transport or lairage.

Associated Factors

Drawing on the collective studies noted, ISU researchers and a commercial pork integrator teamed up to take a closer look at the factors associated with fatigued, injured and dead pigs during transport to a processing facility.

Factors contributing to transport losses, such as pig density in trailers (pig weight/transport square feet), sort from the barn, season, temperature, management and others, were studied.

Researchers evaluated 9,651 trailer loads transporting over 2 million pigs to a single processing plant. Transport losses totaled 17,393, an average of 0.85% per trailer load. From that total, 0.55% were recorded as “fatigued” pigs, while 0.05% and 0.25% were listed as injured or dead, respectively.

Management and environmental effects, such as sorting/loading personnel, procedures, facilities, etc., can play a large role in transport losses.

Breaking the data down further, transport losses for the 29 truck drivers ranged from 0.54 to 0.78% per truckload, averaging 0.64%; the 11 loading crews' transport losses ranged from 0.35 to 0.86%, and averaged 0.65%. Of the nine farms in the study, transport losses ranged from 0.28 to 1.21%, for an average of 0.69%. Notably, two farms averaged greater than 1% total losses per trailer load (165 pigs), which calculates to 1.65 pigs per trailer load.

At 1% transport losses spread over 50 trailer loads of pigs, this would equal approximately 83 pigs with the potential for reduced value (165 pigs/trailer × 50 trailers = 8,250 pigs transported × 1% transport loss = 82.5 pigs).

While this study did not identify specific characteristics of truck drivers that may contribute to greater transport losses, a few possibilities could include the frequency and duration of stops and the gentleness of starts and stops. Temperatures inside the trailers rapidly increase when the trailer is not moving and when truck drivers do not manage the air inlets to recommended guidelines.

Similar observations can be made about loading crews. Of the 11 crews evaluated, the poorest four load-out crews in terms of greatest average transport losses averaged 0.28% more pig losses during transport when compared to the best four load-out crews. Thus, proper pig handling throughout the process of sorting, moving and loading is important.

In the ISU study, pigs were removed from the grow-finish barns in two or three sorts. Analysis of the first and third sort (approximately 2-3 weeks apart) found that pigs removed during the third sort averaged 0.27% more transport losses compared to the first sort. This result may be due to slower-growing, less healthy pigs or other factors. Regardless of the reason, pigs in the latter sort may have different floor space and/or handling requirements during the loading process.

Next Page: Focus on Pig Density

Previous Page: Associated Factors

Focus on Pig Density

A renewed effort to evaluate the effects of transport floor space on losses — calculated as sq. ft./pig or pigs/sq. ft. — is underway. This variable was expressed as “trailer density” and calculated as total pig market weight divided by the square feet of trailer space available to the pigs. This factor showed the greatest variation in transport losses over the ISU study period.

As trailer density increased in terms of lb./sq. ft., so did transport losses (Figure 1). The association between transport losses and trailer density is supported by a number of other studies.

With greater attention being paid to fuel costs, there is a temptation to increase the number of pigs per load or increase the market weight per pig to reduce transportation costs.

However, underestimating the average body weight/pig by 10 lb. (i.e., from 265 to 275 lb.) for an average of 168 pigs on the trailer in this study resulted in a 0.13% increase in transport losses per load. Similarly, increasing the number of pigs in a small trailer compartment, such as those in the rear of the trailer (59 sq. ft.) by one pig (21 vs. 22 pigs at 265 lb.), increases trailer density in that compartment by 3 lb./sq. ft. Transport losses would likely increase by 0.14% pigs/load in this example.

Clearly, it is important to calculate the available transport space to the pigs in the trailer, subtracting any areas where pigs cannot stand or lie down. Likewise, it is important to obtain accurate weights of the market pigs, which will allow producers to calculate the pounds per square foot in each compartment of the trailer.

The “ideal” transport space per pig is still uncertain and, logically, varies with the ambient temperature. Research suggests, however, that transport losses are minimized between 55 and 58 lb./sq. ft., although some researchers suggest densities as low as 51 lb./sq. ft. to minimize transport losses.

A loading density calculator, developed by, and available from, Elanco Animal Health is a tool to assist producers in calculating the appropriate number of pigs per trailer compartment during loading. (For a copy of the calculator, contact

Seasonal Impact

Transport losses are not limited to a particular time or season of the year. The combination of ambient temperature and humidity (commonly referred to as a temperature-humidity index or THI) was associated with transport losses. As THI increased, transport losses followed. A Texas Tech study reported that as temperatures rise above 68°F, the number of pigs dead-on-arrival also increases.

THI values appear to be more variable during the colder months than the warmer months. Early and late in the winter season (late autumn and spring), temperature fluctuations throughout the day may require trailer drivers to add or remove air inlet covers during transport. The Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) handbook available from the National Pork Board provides guidelines.

In addition, research has clearly shown that temperatures inside the trailers increase when the trailer is not moving. Producers, trailer drivers and processors need to carefully coordinate the transport of pigs to ensure that the wait time to unload is minimized. Likewise, producers and trailer drivers need to be aware of THI fluctuations throughout the day and adjust air inlets or provide bedding as needed. Providing additional trailer space and/or periodic water sprinkling in warm weather can also reduce pig mortalities.

Another explanation for fewer transport losses during the summer is market hogs are often loaded in the early morning when temperatures and, more importantly THI values, are closer to the pigs' thermo-neutral zone.

Transport losses appear to be the greatest during cold months, primarily because of an increase in fatigued pigs (Figure 2). This might seem contradictory to the conventional wisdom that hot weather is of greater concern because pigs lack the ability to sweat.

Researchers list a handful of reasons why the number of fatigued pigs increases during the winter. First, market weight and number of pigs marketed increase during winter months, so transport loss risks inherently increase. Second, pigs may experience cold stress as they move from thermo-neutral temperatures in the barn to below freezing temperatures in the loading chute, then warmer, again, as the pigs' body heat builds in the trailer, especially if the majority of trailer vents are covered during the cold season.

As pigs are unloaded, they may again face cold temperatures, which again require them to burn more energy to keep warm, thus causing fatigue.

Pig mortalities are consistent throughout the year relative to fatigued pigs. However, as a percentage of total transport losses, pig mortalities increase during the summer months, possibly because fatigued pigs are more likely to succumb to higher temperatures.

Hone in on Handling

Transport losses have been associated with various handling procedures during trailer loading and unloading. As we look at loading group size, smaller is better. Loading groups of four pigs resulted in less open-mouth breathing, skin discoloration (both signs of fatigue), and transport losses compared to loading groups of eight pigs. Smaller loading groups also hastened the loading process.

Research has reported that handling scores and pig heart rates were similar for group sizes of six or fewer pigs in a handling course consisting of two straight hallways, five turns and a confined area. This study also reinforced that there was no time advantage to moving groups of five pigs or larger. The TQA program suggests loading 4-6 pigs at a time is best.

Ways to Lower Pig Transport Losses

  • Periodically check the transport losses from your hog operation and/or sites.

  • Be sure your truck drivers are certified under the Transport Quality Assurance to ensure they understand and follow the guidelines.

  • Calculate the usable square footage of the transport trailer and develop a loading plan for the number of pigs being transported.

  • Check ventilation in the trailer to ensure it is appropriate for current weather conditions.

  • Develop written standard operating procedures and checklists for loading and transporting pigs.

National Hog Farmer

Featherlite Announces Aggressive Product Launch Despite Tough Market

New innovations, exclusive features top the list

Cresco, IA/May 21, 2009 – Featherlite® Trailers’ 2010 offerings suggest this is a company as tough as its products. Instead of adopting a “stay the course” attitude for 2009, Featherlite has unveiled new trailers, new options and bold new customer benefits.

“At Featherlite, we think the proper response to an underperforming economy is to over-perform,” Randy Lewis, Featherlite’s national sales manager, said. “We wanted to outdo ourselves with both product innovation and customer benefit.”

Bold innovations

Among Featherlite’s biggest innovations are the new “Step-Safe” rear gates, featured in their livestock trailers. Featherlite is offering this popular option for their rear gates in addition to the center gates. “Step-Safe” gates help prevent livestock slippage, and they’re convenient for farmers and ranchers too.

The new transferrable warranty program also showcases Featherlite’s commitment to the customer. Featherlite’s eight-year limited warranty now stays with trailers when traded in at a Featherlite dealer for a new Featherlite trailer.

Rounding out Featherlite’s star innovations is the new power lift package on the 3110 car trailer. This option tilts the trailer bed down to the ground, eliminating the need for ramps. It’s a feature that will especially appeal to farmers, contractors and landscapers.

More standard features

The 2010 Featherlites also come with new standard features. One of these eye-catching features is offering chrome glass windows as standard equipment. This feature was previously restricted to Featherlite’s premium Medalist trailers, and it adds a lot of style to trailers. Standard chrome glass is a feature unique to Featherlite—no other company provides this!

High quality, high value

Featherlite has pioneered innovative new manufacturing techniques, creating models that are more economical for trailer owners. These trailers will still provide all the essential features consumers have come to expect from a Featherlite.

Among these new trailers are the 8117 stock trailer and the 8414 and 8415 combo trailers. Featherlite has also applied these new innovations to an existing trailer, Model 8107, making it even more affordable.

Sierra “Lite” Living Quarters will be welcome to trailer buyers on a budget, too. This option is for horse trailer owners who want frugality without sacrificing all the frills.

Exciting new options

Trailer buyers will love Featherlite’s extended options. WERM flooring eliminates the need for rubber mats, yet still offers a padded ride for horses. And options such as new color selections, tri-color trailers, painted “wave” side panels and aluminum wheels give trailers an eye-catching look no matter where people go.

Ice fishing, campers and truck beds

Featherlite is aggressively targeting niche markets with their new releases. North American residents above the Mason-Dixon Line will love the “Freedom” trailer for ice fishermen. This comfortable trailer boasts sofa and swing-down beds, a kitchenette, bath and a flat screen TV. It also has fresh water and electricity inputs, and a hydraulic lift lets the trailer sit flush against the ice. Why get bored waiting for the fish to bite?

The Freedom serves double duty in the summertime as a toy hauler, perfect for ATVs, motorcycles or bicycles. It also makes a wonderful trailer to take on extended camping or hunting trips.

Another trailer well-suited to outdoor activities is the 1609 “Mod Pod,” especially with its new camper package. The “Mod Pod” transforms from trailer to camper in minutes and is tough enough to take off the beaten path. This is a trailer for cyclists, hikers and other explorers.

Also new for 2009 is Featherlite’s redesigned radius-style pickup truck bed. The bed offers a “headache rack”, stake pockets and a trap door to install a gooseneck or fifth wheel connection.

For more information about all of Featherlite’s 2010 products and features, visit Featherlite online at or call 1-800-800-1230.


About Featherlite

Featherlite, Inc. is a North American leader in designing, manufacturing and marketing high quality aluminum specialty trailers, specialized transporters and custom mobile marketing trailers. Featherlite has highly diversified product lines offering hundreds of standard model and custom-designed horse, livestock, car, utility and recreational trailers through an extensive dealer network in the U.S. and Canada. In addition to its "Official Trailer" status of NASCAR, Featherlite is a sponsor of many equine, livestock and motorsports organizations. Featherlite is part of the Universal Trailer Corporation’s family of brands.

National Hog Farmer


Gene Provides Yield Stability During Periods of Inadequate Water Supply

ST. LOUIS and LUDWIGSHAFEN, Germany, June 9, 2009 – Monsanto Company (NYSE:MON) and BASF scientists unveiled the discovery that a naturally-occurring gene can help corn plants combat drought conditions and confer yield stability during periods of inadequate water supplies.

The companies stated that they will use the gene in their first-generation drought-tolerant corn product which is designed to provide yield stability to their farmer customers. This product will be the first biotechnology-derived drought-tolerant crop in the world.

The announcement comes at a time when recent studies, including one by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, are warning of declining crop yields and global food shortages as a result of climate change. According to a United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization report prepared for ministers of the G-8, the number and duration of dry spells, especially in already drought-prone areas, is expected to increase.

The companies said that the drought-tolerant corn contains the cspB gene, from Bacillus subtilis. CspB codes for and is responsible for an RNA chaperone, which are commonly occurring protein molecules that bind to RNAs and facilitate their function. The gene was first identified in bacteria subjected to cold stress conditions and further research has demonstrated that cspB helps plants cope with drought stress. Monsanto scientists have published those findings in a peer-reviewed paper in the journal, Plant Physiology.

In corn, cspB works by helping the plant maintain growth and development during times of inadequate water supply. A corn plant is particularly vulnerable to drought during reproductive growth stages. By mitigating the impact of drought on the plant, cspB helps provide yield stability. Improved yield stability is of significant value to farmers faced with unpredictable rainfall.

“The development of this trait demonstrates the strength of our robust discovery engine which is fueled by our ongoing investment in R&D,” said Robert Fraley, Chief Technology Officer for Monsanto. “It also reflects our commitment to our farmer customers and a recognition of the investment they make in our products. Drought-tolerant corn will be another tool with which we can help them meet the challenges facing agriculture today.”

“BASF and Monsanto’s drought-tolerant corn is the first result of our plant biotechnology collaboration of which I am very proud,” said Jürgen Schweden, Senior Vice President R&D, BASF Plant Science. “With our complementing technologies, we are able to bring more and better products to farmers faster,” he added.

Monsanto and BASF noted that the drought-tolerant corn product is targeted for as early as 2012 pending appropriate regulatory approvals. Both companies also recently announced that they have completed regulatory submissions for cultivation in the United States and Canada, and for import to Mexico, the European Union and Colombia. Submissions in other import markets will follow in the months to come.

In any given year, 10 million to 13 million acres of farmland planted to corn in the United States may be affected by at least moderate drought. In field trials conducted last year in the Western Great Plains, drought-tolerant corn met or exceeded the 6 percent to 10 percent target yield enhancement – about 7 to 10 bushels per acre in some of the key drought-prone areas in the United States where average yields range from 70 to 130 bushels per acre.

Drought-tolerant corn technology is part of the R&D and commercialization collaboration in plant biotechnology between BASF and Monsanto, announced in March 2007. The two companies are jointly contributing $1.5 billion over the life of the collaboration, which is aimed at developing higher-yielding crops and crops more tolerant to adverse environmental conditions such as drought.

The first-generation product is part of a multi-generational family of biotech drought-tolerant products the companies plan to bring to market in the next decade. Both BASF and Monsanto continue to bolster the joint pipeline with other genes for drought tolerance as well as other abiotic stress tolerance traits. Among them is the second-generation drought-tolerant corn, currently in Phase 2 – which consists of laboratory and field testing.

Monsanto decided to collaborate with BASF because the company is excellently positioned to provide traits as a series of successive upgrades within a particular crop. For BASF, Monsanto's track record of commercializing traits and breeding desirable germplasm ensures that BASF's innovations quickly reach the widest base of farmers.

Monsanto’s discovery engine – to which the company contributes $2.6 million a day – continues to screen, evaluate and advance genes with promising yield and stress tolerance characteristics.

Monsanto’s discovery engine combines cutting-edge breeding and biotechnology research using elite germplasm from around the world to deliver the best seed-based solutions for increased on-farm productivity. Drought tolerance as well as other traits in development, such as higher-yielding soybeans and disease-resistant cotton are key to meeting the company’s Sustainable Yield Commitment. In 2008, Monsanto pledged to double yields in its three core crops – corn, cotton and soybeans – by 2030 compared to a base year of 2000 – while also working to conserve resources such as water, land and energy, required to produce each unit.

About Monsanto Company

Monsanto Company is a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improve farm productivity and food quality. Monsanto remains focused on enabling both small-holder and large-scale farmers to produce more from their land while conserving more of our world's natural resources such as water and energy. To learn more about our business and our commitments, please visit:

About BASF

BASF is the world’s leading chemical company: The Chemical Company. Its portfolio ranges from chemicals, plastics and performance products to agricultural products, fine chemicals as well as oil and gas. As a reliable partner BASF helps its customers in virtually all industries to be more successful. With its high-value products and intelligent solutions, BASF plays an important role in finding answers to global challenges such as climate protection, energy efficiency, nutrition and mobility. BASF posted sales of more than €62 billion in 2008 and had approximately 97,000 employees as of the end of the year. BASF shares are traded on the stock exchanges in Frankfurt (BAS), London (BFA) and Zurich (AN). Further information on BASF is available on the Internet at

Health Agency Raises Flu Threat to Highest Level

The World Health Organization (WHO) today raised the alert level for the H1N1 flu virus to Phase 6, signaling the first influenza pandemic of the 21st century.

The decision to go to the highest warning level is the first such declaration by WHO since 1968, when a strain known as Hong Kong flu broke out and killed about one million people.

WHO Director Margaret Chan says, “This pandemic will be of moderate severity, and we know from experience that severity can vary on many factors from one country to another.”

The H1N1 flu strain has been of moderate severity, but its continuing spread resulted in it being proclaimed a pandemic.

Phase 6 suggests by definition that a new strain of influenza to which most people appear susceptible is spreading in at least two regions of the world. “Community transmission” of the novel strain of flu beyond Mexico, the United States and Canada has been clear for several weeks.

WHO reports there have been 27,737 cases of influenza A infection in 74 countries with 141 deaths.

WHO’s reluctance to move to the pandemic designation is due to fears it would alarm consumers and trigger a panic. Adding to the reluctance has been evidence that the H1N1 strain is far less virulent than most experts expected the next pandemic to be. Most persons recover from the infection without specific medical intervention.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the new flu strain has infected more than 13,000 people in all 50 states and killed at least 27.