Maximize Total Born to Reduce “Per Pig” Costs

With the current state of the swine industry, to be a low-cost producer, it is important to recognize

With the current state of the swine industry, to be a low-cost producer, it is important to recognize that “total pigs born” has a big impact on the cost of weaned pigs.

Looking at the Swine Management Services’ farm benchmarking database, we find some very interesting trends. For example, Table 1 shows the top 5% of the 607 farms in the database have the potential for 35.33 pigs born/mated female/year, which calculates to 14.53 pigs born/female farrowed. There are a few farms that top 15 pigs born/litter. Pigs born drops 5.48 pigs/mated female/year to 29.85 in the All Farms’ average, which brings the per-female-farrowed average down to 12.69 pigs.

Graph 1 is even more eye-opening as to the potential and variation in total pigs born/mated female/year. We see a normal bell curve variation with the top farms at 39 pigs/mated female/year, but the bottom end comes in at just 20 pigs/mated female/year – a 19-pig difference!

We did not expect to see such a large variation in potential. Following are some factors that can affect “potential” total pigs born/mated female/year.

• Genetics: Many genetic lines have the potential to farrow 36+ total pigs born/mated female/year

• Gilt development: Top farms have a section in their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manuals on gilt development and gilt breeding which includes exposing gilts to mature boars at approximately 200 days of age, recording gilts in heat, breeding after 1-2 recorded (skip) heats, exposing gilts to stalls before breeding, flushing before breeding, and making sure gilts weigh at least 300 lb. at breeding.

• Parity structure: Table 2 shows the top 10% units have an average parity of 2.62 litters. Each farm and genetic line will have an ideal parity structure. The key is getting Parity 0 females to have 12 or more pigs in their first litter, increasing the subsequent three or four parities by 0.50 to 0.75 pigs/litter and then keeping only the older parity females that have above average body condition, are mobile, and can wean 10+ pigs/litter.

• Feeding in lactation: Maximizing each sows’ feed intake while in the farrowing rooms – 7-9 lb./day the first seven days and average over 14 lb./day for an 18- to 20-day lactation period. Ad lib feeding is required to get these feed intake numbers.

• Feeding sows from weaning to breeding: To increase the number of eggs produced and shed, weaned females need to be fed extra feed after weaning. This involves feeding sows an extra 3-6 lb. of feed at a second feeding during the day until they are bred.

• Breeding/insemination: Develop SOPs that ensure sows are bred at least twice, females that return to heat after two services are culled, maintain semen quality by recording temperature of semen at delivery, and maintain a daily log of high/low temperatures in your semen storage cooler. If your production target is to wean 27+ pigs/mated female/year, your total pigs born must average 32+. Review your SOPs for handling, processing and managing large litters.

Remember, total pigs weaned affects the cost to raise a weaned pig. One more pig weaned/mated female/year will lower your breakeven on all pigs by over $1.00/pig.

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

Click to view graphs.

Mark Rix and Ron Ketchem