Smithfield Sale, PED Virus Jangles Producers’ Nerves at Expo

Read about hot topics from 2013 World Pork Expo

The two hottest topics at the 25th Anniversary World Pork Expo last week were the sale of Smithfield Foods to Shuanghui, Ltd., and the potential impact of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus. The level of concern about both was high. 

I addressed what I believe to be the salient points on the Smithfield Foods’ transaction in last week’s column. My thoughts on those points have not changed.  However, one additional question was posed:  What if exports from Smithfield Foods increase dramatically and, perhaps, the company or the U.S. industry expands to fill the void and then the Chinese decide to wreck the U.S. industry by cutting off imports?

That is a risk.  But keep in mind, that’s a risk with or without this merger.  It is simply an outgrowth of more exports, regardless of who owns Smithfield Foods.   The question of “How many exports are too many exports?” still applies and will still be collectively answered by the way the market incorporates risk.

Jury is Out on PED Virus

As for PED virus, the jury is still out.  Several World Pork Expo sessions were devoted to the topic with 113 positive cases confirmed as of last week.  They were located in 11 states – 62 in Iowa and 15 in Minnesota.  About two-thirds of the cases have been on farms without sows. It appears that the first case was in mid-April and that the virus is genetically 99% similar to a strain identified in China in 2012. 

Beyond those facts, one could find a wide array of thoughts and information at World Pork Expo that may or may not be accurate.  I won’t repeat them here, but virtually all fell in the “they’re-not-telling-us-everything” camp.  But I believe “they” are telling us everything they actually know but what is “known” is fluid at the present time.

Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to the National Hog Farmer Weekly Preview newsletter and get the latest news delivered right to your inbox every week!

Beyond the bad – that is, the bad consequences of this disease for the infected farms – the question is whether it will impact the market.  I presume that the one-third of cases on sow farms have resulted in the loss of about three weeks’ worth of pigs.  But the number of impacted farms at this point is very small and has occurred over a period of 7-8 weeks.  It is very doubtful that those losses will ever be seen against the seasonally-large slaughter totals of October and November.  Further spread could change that, of course, but remember that such growth will also be spread over time and December slaughter numbers are huge, too. 

The other market impact would be a delay in marketings from the two-thirds of cases that are on “non-sow” farms.  PED virus is reported to be much like Transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE), which means affected grow-finish pigs likely spent a week with diarrhea and vomiting and, thus, grew very little.  Those pigs will come to market over several weeks’ time and they represent a small minority of farms. I doubt we’ll see any real impact on weights, especially since weights usually decline at this time of year. To have a market impact, I think PED virus will have to become a true epidemic and impact far more pigs than it has so far.

The bigger question is: “How did the PED virus get here?” And the next, more disturbing question is: “Was it accidental or intentional?”

The United States imports a lot of pork production inputs from China.  A high proportion of the tetracyclines, vitamins and amino acids come from there.  I don’t know if this virus can live long outside of a host but if it can, any of those could have carried it into the United States and infected a number of farms simultaneously.

Some farms dealt with contamination-induced losses last year when some Chinese-made semen tubes impacted semen quality and litter sizes.  The problem was not, in my opinion, widespread enough to impact market numbers, but it is not a stretch to envision one of these incidents that could.  Perhaps U.S. users of these products need to enforce more control over the production process in China.  Or is this a more logical role for government to play?

Perhaps the best news of all from last week was the rally in the pork and hog markets.  Net cash hog prices are now high enough to put most U.S. producers in the black and provide profits of $15-$20/head for the most efficient ones.  This rally puts hogs near my downward-revised expectations for the summer peaks so I do not expect much more.  But prices could stay steady through early August, providing some much-needed positive cash flow.

You might also like:

How will Smithfield Foods Sale Impact U.S. Pork Industry?

New Cause of Infectious Diarrhea Found

2013 World Pork Expo New Products

Is Farrowing Crate Design a Constraint to Weaning Average?

Is farrowing crate design a constraint to weaning average

Last week, we attended an open house of a new 6,000-sow farm equipped with electronic sow feeding (ESF) in large gestation pens.  A tour of one of the farrowing rooms revealed 6 x 8-ft. farrowing crates with cast iron floors in the sow area and woven wire flooring in the pigs’ creep area. Crates also had rubber mats with heat lamps on both sides.

The design of the basic farrowing crate has not changed in the last 25 years. Sure, different types of flooring have been tried under the sow area – from wire, plastic, cast iron, coated-wire, tri-bar, fiberglass-coated, aluminum, etc.  While most farrowing crates are 84 in. long, in some the sow’s feeder takes up part of that space. Usually, a butt bar at the rear of the crate helps prevent sows from lying on pigs during the birth process and lactation.

Over the last 10 years or so, we have urged genetic companies to focus on more total pigs born in an effort to wean more pigs/sow/year (p/s/y) and to make farrowing facilities more production and cost efficient.  Each extra pig that can be weaned/sow/year can reduce the cost by approximately $1.60/pig.  At 26 p/s/y, you can reduce the cost per sow by $41.60.

Naturally, as litter sizes increase, there is a greater need for more functional teats. Each pair of teats added to the underline of a female generally increases the length of the female’s body about 4 in.  An increase from 10-12 nipples/female to 14-16 nipples/female means they will be 8-12 in. longer. 


Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to the National Hog Farmer Weekly Preview newsletter and get the latest news delivered right to your inbox every week!


One farm we work with has three different types of farrowing crates. They allowed us to pull some farrowing data from their farm records for the last 16 months of farrowing data. Table 1 summarizes the performance data from the different crate designs:

·        FC-1 farrowing crates are in rooms 1-8; crates are 17 in. wide at the top and the length from feeder to butt bar is 71 in.; bottom bow bars are 27 in. wide; overall size of the farrowing crate is 60 x 80 in. (5.0 x 6.8 ft.).  Since these crates are smaller, 75% of the smaller females are placed in them.

·        FC-2 crates are in rooms 9-15 with a crate width of 20 in. at the top; length from feeder to butt bar is 72 in.; bottom bow bars are 29 in. wide; overall size of the farrowing crates is 55 x 80 in. (4.6 x 6.8 ft.).  These crates have a middle flip up bar to restrict the sows as they lie down.  All sizes of sows are placed in these crates.

·        FC-3 represents the final two rooms; crate top width is 20 in., length from feeder to butt bar is 71 in. These crates have fingers that are 36 in. wide at the bottom; overall size of the crates is 58 x 82 in. (4.8 x 6.8 ft.). About 25% of the largest sows are placed in these crates to farrow.

Table 1 shows more than 300 farrowings per room. Average parity for FC-1 crates is 2.42, FC-2 crates is 2.56, and FC-3 crates is 2.86.  There is some bias in the data with younger parity sows in room FC-1 and older parity females in room FC-3.

Total pigs born ranged from 12.75 to 13.29 pigs/litter; stillborns/litter was 3.86% in FC-1, 4.13% in FC-2 and 4.73% in FC-3 – remembering that 25% of the farrowings are the larger females.

Pigs weaned/litter averaged 10.76 pigs in FC-1, 10.69 pigs in FC-2, and 10.58 pigs for FC-3. Pre-weaning death loss was highest in FC-3 with 14.41%, followed by 11.29% in FC-2 and 10.67% in FC-1.

A few years ago, we put together an equation we call “piglet survival,” which is simply: 100 – (stillborn % + preweaning death loss %). There was a difference of 4.61% in piglet survival from FC-1 to FC-3.  For a 2,500-sow farm weaning 25 p/s/y, that improvement in piglet survival would add 2,880 pigs to their annual production.  

This farm attempted to place some females in certain farrowing crates to reduce piglet losses, although it did not result in more pigs saved.   

The new 6,000-sow farm we toured two weeks ago was equipped with 6 x 8 ft.-farrowing crates with top bar width at 22 in., the bottom bow bars width of 29.5 in., and height of crate at 42.5 in.  The farrowing crates have the flip up bars on the middle bar to restrict the sow as she lies down.  Farm managers said they plan to wean more than 16 pigs/ litter at about 20 days of age in the near future.

If your farm is struggling to save more pigs/litter, you may need to review your facilities, as well as the people and the sows.  As farms continue to raise the bar for producing more pigs/sow/year, they may need to make some changes to meet their goals. If you are remodeling or building new, the constraints to saving more pigs/litter could include the size of your farrowing crates.

Previous Production Preview columns can be found at

Key Performance Indicators

Tables 2 and 3 (below) provide 52-week and 13-week rolling averages for key performance indicators (KPI) of breeding herd performance.  These tables reflect the most current quarterly data available and are presented with each column.  The KPI’s can be used as general guidelines to measure the productivity of your herd compared to the top 10% and top 25% of farms, the average performance for all farms, and the bottom 25% of farms in the SMS database.

If you have questions or comments about these columns, or if you have a specific performance measurement that you would like to see benchmarked in our database, please address them to: or


You might also like:

If You Could Get Two More Pigs/Litter, Could You Save Them?

Shorten Wean-to-First-Service Interval to Boost Farrowing Rate, Total Pigs Born/Litter

Zeroing In on Female Retention Rates

Tools Help with Sow Housing, Worker Safety, Environment, Breeding Stock


At World Pork Expo last week, the Pork Checkoff announced new and improved tools to assist pork producers in evaluating the financial impact of sow housing choices, improving workplace safety, reducing their environmental footprint and identifying problems within breeding stock.

Sow Housing Calculator
A new Sow Housing Calculator will assist producers in making important decisions about remodeling or other facility or management choices on the farm.

Created in the context of remodeling sow barns, this new calculator can also be used to model the financial impact of any management or facility choices to a sow farm, including:

  •          Changes in nutrition


  •          Changes in herd size


  •          Remodeling or replacing housing choices


Once the data is added, the calculator generates a report of the needed cash flow and cost per pig information that may be required by a lender.

“Pork producers have many options available to them, each with its own cost and benefit,” says Chris Novak, National Pork Board CEO. “The new Sow Housing Calculator will help producers look at the facility and management choices that are best for them and the pigs in their care.” The Sow Housing Calculator is available free of charge to producers and can be found online at

Benchmarking Workplace Safety
A new website to provide reliable methods of benchmarking workplace safety is being developed by the Pork Checkoff to track and compare workplace safety data across farm systems and between peer companies.

“You cannot improve what you cannot measure.  This new benchmarking system will provide producers quantifiable indicators that will allow them to compare workplace safety on their farms with others in the industry.  More importantly, producers can use this benchmarking tool to evaluate various actions that can reduce future accidents and injuries,” Novak says. “With strong participation from the industry, we will be able to measure the improvements that we make over time as we work together to reduce the most common injuries on our hog farms.

“Our industry has adopted a set of ethical principles that includes our commitment to enhancing workplace safety for our families and employees.  Improving workplace safety can reduce costs and improve performance, but most importantly, it is the right thing for us to do.” Novak says.

The Benchmarking Workplace Safety system will be available June 17 and can be accessed via

Environmental Footprint Calculator
A second-generation environmental impact calculator is now available to producers.  This new calculator expands the existing Live Swine Carbon Footprint Calculator by allowing producers to calculate their water footprint.  The Pig Production Environmental Footprint Calculator version 2.0 is available by calling the Pork Checkoff Service Center at (800) 456-7675.

National Swine Reproduction Guide
Just released by the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence, the Swine Reproduction Guide is an analytical tool that provides producers with a decision tree for identifying breeding problems within gilts, sows and boars. The web-based guide will be available online through Iowa State University Extension and at






Domestic Marketing Campaign Moves Pork


In challenging times for producers, the Pork Checkoff’s domestic marketing efforts are paying off. In a news conference held during World Pork Expo, National Pork Board officials reported positive response to its consumer campaigns.

“The current consumer campaign, Pork. Be inspired, is moving product at the retail meat case and in restaurants,” says Chris Novak, National Pork Board CEO. “In the first quarter of this year, total pounds of pork sold at retail were up 9.9% over first quarter last year and total dollars in sales were up 4.7%. Average retail price was down due to higher supplies, but the increased volume more than offset the decrease in average price.”

To further bolster consumer demand, a new summer marketing campaign was launched last week to communicate the current relative value of pork, educate consumers on the new pork cut names and reinforce proper pork cooking by talking about the ideal range of doneness.

“This is a critical time for our farmers and a challenging year for the industry overall,” says Karen Richter, National Pork Board president and pork producer from Montgomery, MN. “For consumers, high prices at the gas pump and a tight food budget mean they’re searching for bargains, but they still expect great taste and variety in meals. And that’s good news for pork.”

In April, the National Pork Board rolled out new names for some traditional cuts of pork as a way to address the lack of consumer understanding of pork cuts and how to prepare them.

Based on extensive consumer research, the new cut names were selected to enhance value in the meat cuts, and new simplified labels were developed to better explain proper cooking techniques.

“This does mean we’ll have to say goodbye to names like ‘pork butt’,” Richter says. “But we believe consumers will feel more confident in their ability to choose and prepare pork that provides great flavor and versatility at a budget-friendly price.”

The new porterhouse pork chop, ribeye pork chop and New York pork chop are featured in the summer marketing campaign being promoted through national radio and online advertising, food media spokespersons and social media engagement. As a part of the campaign, consumers will be able to tap into online coupons that have proven effective in driving visitor traffic to pork-focused consumer websites.




Natural Antibiotic Offers Alternative Piglet Treatment


Lysozyme is a natural antibiotic that could provide an alternative piglet treatment in diets to improve growth and feed efficiency, according to a report in today’s American Society of Animal Science “Taking Stock” e-newsletter written by Sandra Avant of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

ARS scientists at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Clay Center, NE, found that piglets fed lysozyme performed as well as those given a traditional antibiotic. Lysozyme is an enzyme with antimicrobial properties, and is found in the tears, saliva and mucus of animals as well as humans.

In an initial study led by physiologist William Oliver in the USMARC Nutrition Research Unit, 10-day-old pigs were weaned and divided into three groups. Pigs were put on a milk replacer diet that included granulated lysozyme, neomycin and oxytetracycline, or no antibiotic or lysozyme treatment. The 48 animals were weighed after two weeks.

The growth rate was similar in pigs given lysozyme compared with those on regular antibiotics, and both lysozyme and antibiotics decreased pathogen shedding.

Oliver and microbiologist James Wells, in the USMARC Meat Safety and Quality Research Unit, also examined lysozyme’s effects on growth development and gastrointestinal health of 24-day-old pigs.

A total of 192 pigs—96 males and 96 females—were weaned and separated into groups. Animals were randomly assigned to one of three groups that were fed either a dry pellet diet containing lysozyme, carbadox plus copper sulfate or no treatment. After 28 days, analyses revealed that lysozyme was as effective as antibiotics in increasing growth performance, improving feed efficiency and enhancing gastrointestinal health.

ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These findings, published in the Journal of Animal Science, support the USDA priority of promoting international food security.


Most-Asked Question at World Pork Expo: What About the Smithfield Sale?

Mostasked question at World Pork Expo was about the Smithfield sale

It’s probably not surprising that the question that came up most often in pork producer conversations at World Pork Expo involved speculation about the implications of the sale of Smithfield Foods to Henan Shuanghui of China. In case you missed it, Steve Meyer, Paragon Economics, Inc., addressed this very question in the June 3 issue of the National Hog Farmer Weekly Preview newsletter. As Meyer points out, the sale of a company that owns around 970,000 sows and eight packing plants definitely qualifies as news. The discussion about the sale has not been limited to World Pork Expo. Many economists and media outlets are also analyzing the potential outcome of this sale. If the proposed acquisition of Smithfield is approved, it would be the largest acquisition of an American company by a Chinese company in history.

Some people are concerned about biosecurity risks posed by staff that may travel back and forth between China and the U.S.  Other people are concerned about food safety. This week Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee urged the Committee on Foreign Investment and other agencies responsible for reviewing the merger to take into account, “China’s and Shuanghui’s troubling track record on food safety,” and to “do everything in their power to ensure our national security and the health of our families is not jeopardized,” according to Food Safety News. The Senator notes that two years ago, Shuanghui International admitted to putting illegal additives in its food products.

On the positive side, as Meyer explains, if additional pork is exported to China, U.S. producers could see prices rise. Raoul Baxter, a former Smithfield Foods executive, recently wrote a blog post for the Web site entitled, “Shuanghui: What’s the big deal?”  He explains that while international deals are never perfect, the Smithfield sale to Shuanghui could be greatly beneficial to the entire U.S. pork system.


Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to the National Hog Farmer Weekly Wrap Up newsletter and get the latest news delivered right to your inbox every week!


USA Today’s editorial board presented opinions on the positive and negative sides of the sale this week, too. The editorial board asks, “Is pork a strategic asset that America should guard?” The possibility of the acquisition improving quality control in China is discussed. The editorial board does express concerns about the inequities in U.S.-China commercial relations—and notes that China’s restrictions on foreign ownership mean that U.S. companies that enter the Chinese market face restrictions and regulations that greatly reduce their ability to compete with state-owned companies.


No doubt, the questions are perplexing. What do you think about this acquisition? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below, or email Check out the thoughtful comments readers have already posted related to Meyer’s column. National Hog Farmer will continue to provide updates as this story develops.

You might also like:

How will Smithfield Foods Sale Impact U.S. Pork Industry?

New Cause of Infectious Diarrhea Found

National Pork Board Approves $450,000 in PEDV Research Funds

National Pork Board Approves $450,000 in PEDV Research Funds

In less than three weeks since the positive identification of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) in the United States, the National Pork Board has approved $450,000 in Checkoff funds to help speed research into finding answers to this new disease threat facing the domestic pork industry. This amount, coupled with funds just approved by the Iowa Pork Producers Association's research committee, brings the current total devoted to PEDV research to $527,000 from the two producer-based organizations.

"The National Pork Board took this action to help get answers to U.S. producers as quickly as possible to help protect their herds from this devastating disease," said Conley Nelson, National Pork Board president and producer from Algona, Iowa. "Because of the investment producers make as part of Checkoff, we're able to respond quickly to sudden disease threats such as this."

According to Dr. Paul Sundberg, the Pork Checkoff's vice president of science and technology, PEDV is not a new virus outside of the United States nor a regulatory/reportable disease, but rather a production-related disease that hits young pigs under three weeks of age particularly hard. In the handful of states that have seen the disease, mortality rates have been high in pigs of this age, while older pigs that may get the virus typically recover.



Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to the National Hog Farmer Weekly Wrap Up newsletter and get the latest news delivered right to your inbox every week!


"Since PEDV is widespread in many countries, it is not a trade-restricting disease," Sundberg said. "While PEDV may appear clinically to be the same as transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE) virus with acute diarrhea, producers who suspect their herd may be infected should work with their herd veterinarian immediately if any TGE-like symptoms appear. And, as always, they should maintain strict biosecurity protocols."

The objectives of the Pork Board's swine health committee, which will oversee the PEDV research, will be to get real answers about the spread and transmission of the disease, along with measures to detect, diagnose, prevent and control it. To help facilitate this, Sundberg said that the committee and Pork Checkoff's science and technology team will work closely with the key industry partners, such as the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the National Pork Producers Council and state pork associations.

"As with all of our research, we want it to be transparent and objective," Conley said. "And in this case, it must be very specific with quick turnaround times so that we can get answers quickly."

You might also like:

How will Smithfield Foods Sale Impact U.S. Pork Industry?

New Cause of Infectious Diarrhea Found

2013 World Pork Expo New Products

PQA Plus® Revisions Debut at World Pork Expo

PQA Plus Revisions Debut at World Pork Expo

Revisions to the voluntary Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) program were announced during World Pork Expo, and became effective as of June 7, 2013. PQA Plus has evolved since its introduction in 1989 with regular revisions and updates to increase its effectiveness, incorporate new research information, and ensure the program’s validity with customers. PQA Plus incorporates 10 Good Production Practices to align more closely with the We Care initiative principles, and provides a framework for significant, relevant food safety standards and improved animal well-being.

The National Pork Board reports that farmers and other industry experts who have seen the revised program embrace the changes. "There are so many outside influences affecting how we do business, I think for any industry to come together and realize the need for a training tool, and to say, ‘These are our set industry practices and standards.’ and self-regulate is very positive," remarked Emily Erickson, animal well-being and quality assurance manager at New Fashion Pork in Minnesota. "PQA Plus represents a group coming together and determining what’s best for their industry. It’s hard to go wrong when a set of individuals are proactive and forward thinking in this way."


Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to the National Hog Farmer Weekly Wrap Up newsletter and get the latest news delivered right to your inbox every Friday!


Jan Archer, a farmer from North Carolina, sees additional benefits to PQA Plus as well. "All of our employees are on the same page, use the same vocabulary, and understand our common issues," she explained. "It’s a way for us to impress on our employees how important what they do every day is. We are all focused, pulling in the same direction. The end result is added credibility, according to Archer. "We are a contract farm. It’s important our integrator knows how hard we’re working," she said. "Participating in PQA Plus is demonstrating credibility."

The program also serves as a baseline for standard operating procedures in some instances. "We feel it’s an important program to help us ensure we’re doing the right thing and that we’re meeting our quality standards," Mike Faga, director of animal well-being at Iowa Select Farms stated. "It’s widely accepted by the packing community and the customers as well who buy our product."

PQA Plus Enhancements include:

  • Participants must pass a test on questions related to 10 Good Production Practices with a minimum score.
  • Recertification will be available via an online process after initial certification.
  • Participating farms must submit a corrective action plan for all non-compliant findings following site assessments.
  • Trainers and Advisors for the program will receive more extensive instructions and information.

More information on the revised PQA Plus program is available at

You might also like:

How will Smithfield Foods Sale Impact U.S. Pork Industry?

New Cause of Infectious Diarrhea Found

2013 World Pork Expo New Products

Scenes from World Pork Expo 2013

<p> See scenes from the 2013 World Pork Expo.</p>

The 2013 World Pork Expo offered limitless opportunities for pork industry enthusiasts! From the trade show to the youth swine show, and educational seminars and news conferences to the Music Fest, the event offered something for everyone in Des Moines this year.

2013 World Pork Expo--Some Assembly Required

Equipment and displays were being assembled on the day before the opening of the 2013 World Pork Expo at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines!

Take a behind-the-scenes peek at all of the hard work, pounding, polishing, primping and preening that goes into the world's largest pork-industry specific trade show. June 4 was set-up day as companies assembled their booths prior to the June 5 kick-off of World Pork Expo 2013!