Sow longevity can reduce cost of production

With rising input costs, keeping sows in the herd longer could increase profitability.

The pork industry has continued to adopt advances in management practices in all phases of production. This has allowed the pork industry to provide domestic and international consumers a wholesome, nutritious product at a reasonable price. In 2009 the U.S. pork industry marketed 113.6 million market pigs that returned $14.4 billion to the U.S economy, which infused more than $253 million into Michigan. However, input costs continue to rise for all of Michigan’s livestock industries. From all indications, corn will be priced near or above $7 per bushel and soybean meal at or above $350 per ton from now through the summer of 2012. This may result in lower profit potential while pork producers struggle to control cost of production.

One means to control production costs is to retain high producing sows longer in the breeding herd. Pigs per litter typically peak at parities three through six and herds that can retain sows longer in the herd will have lower overhead costs per pig sold. However, increasing the longevity of the sow herd is often easier said than done. The U.S. average for percent culling annually from the herd is near 50% (PigChamp, 2010). This suggests that for every 100 females that were on the farm at the beginning of the year, nearly half were culled by the end of the year.

There are many factors that influence the length of productive life for a sow, so many in fact that it can be difficult to sort through what critical factors producers should consider. Recent work published from Michigan State University (Hoge & Bates, 2011) suggests than one important consideration is the age of the female at first farrowing. This research suggested that females should be no older than 12 months of age at first farrowing. For females that were 11 months of age at first farrowing their risk of culling was reduced by 6% compared to those that were 12 months of age at first farrowing. However the authors cautioned that gilts should be sexually mature and achieved their second estrus or heat before mating.

Other work has identified the importance of proper feet and leg soundness, teat count and lactation feed intake. Improved feet and leg conformation can increase herd retention rates by as much as 28%, while females that had 14 or more teats were retained in the herd for 4.6 months longer than those that had 13 or less teats. Sow feed intake during lactation does impact a sow’s ability to be retained in the herd. It has been suggested that sows that consume less than 7 pounds of feed per day just once from Day 2-14 of lactation will have an increased rate of culling. The culling risk was higher for sows that go completely off feed during that time period. A more extensive discussion of these results can be found in the MSU Pork Quarterly.

Improving sow longevity can reduce overhead costs and increase profit margin per pig sold. Pork producers should review their gilt development and sow management programs to determine where changes can be made to lengthen sow longevity. As input costs continue to remain at historically high levels, pork producers should investigate if they can reduce culling rate and increase pigs produced per sow lifetime.

Literature Cited

  • Hoge, M.D. and R.O. Bates. 2011. Developmental factors that influence sow longevity. J.Anim. Sci. 89:1238-1245.
  • PigCHAMP. 2010. 2010 Datashare. PigCHAMP Inc., Ames, IA. Accessed May 27, 2011.

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