As I write this column, we are smack-dab in the middle of the dog days of summer, coverage of the Summer Olympic Games is everywhere, and the drought of 2012 has a stranglehold on everything agricultural.

The Olympians are the summer’s bright spot — each striving to achieve a “personal best” in their sport of choice.

Pork producers are facing Olympic-caliber challenges, too.  Skyrocketing feed costs will require each to hone his/her personal skills in a battle scored in the profit/loss columns of Excel spreadsheets.

Some veteran pork producers met the challenge in the aftermath of the 1988 drought, then again in the 1998 hog market disaster. But the challenges ahead promise to be some of the most daunting many have faced in years. Like an athlete striving to shave seconds or fractions of seconds off of their personal best, pork producers will be striving to shave pounds or fractions of pounds off of feed conversion rates.

 

Pinching Feed Dollars

In the July 30th edition of National Hog Farmer’s Weekly Preview electronic newsletter, swine industry economist Steve Meyer addressed the prospect of tight feed supplies (http://nationalhogfarmer.com/business/penny-pinching-can-help-cut-feed-bill). One point in particular resonated with me. Steve wrote: “In a 1,200-sow herd, cutting a sow’s daily feed allocation just 4 oz./day would save 50 ton of feed or 1,400 bushels of corn.” That’s not chicken feed!

In context, Meyer reminded producers to double-check the body condition of gestating sows. If a body score of “3” is good or ideal, sows with body scores of 4 and 5 are likely carrying too much condition and are good candidates to have their daily feed allocation dialed back a bit.

Who is responsible for analyzing sow body condition in your breeding-gestation barn? Does the responsibility fall to one person or more? Do they see sow condition the same? Are they adequately trained? Do they conduct a weekly walk-through, analyzing every sow, adjusting feed drop boxes as they go? We’re talking bushels and dollars here.

If you are concerned about continuity of the body condition scoring process, a new sow body condition caliper featured in our June issue could help (http://nationalhogfarmer.com/health/sow-body-condition-caliper-guides-fe...).

 

Check Market Weights

Another common feed-saving strategy is to simply market hogs at lighter weights. The economics associated with this practice must be considered carefully, however.

Every packer has a “preferred weight bracket” which, when hit, maximizes your paycheck. Exceeding the upper end of that bracket not only has a feed tab attached to it, you’re likely to incur a penalty to boot.

Conversely, when hogs come in under the lower end of the preferred weight bracket, penalties mount even faster.  Try your best to consistently hit the lower end of the preferred weight bracket to save a few feed dollars.

Unless you sort and market hogs on a regular basis, guesstimating pig weights with any accuracy is difficult, at best. Now might be the perfect time to invest in a scale to help tighten average marketing weight ranges.

In a survey conducted and released by Elanco Animal Health recently, 46.2% of U.S. producers polled said fewer than 5% of their hogs fell below their packer’s target market weight range. However, an equal percentage (46.6%) admitted between 6 and 15% of their market hogs fell below the target weight bracket.

When a barn needs to be turned, the options may be limited, but keep in mind that all packers do not have the same preferred weight brackets, so if you are lucky enough to live in an area where you have a choice of packers, it might be worthwhile to shuffle those lighter pigs to another packer.

In the same survey, producers were asked to estimate their “per pig” loss when pigs are not sold at full value. Just under 23% said they lost $10 or less per pig in that circumstance. But 48.6% estimated they lost between $11 and $20 per pig on less-than-full-value pigs. Again, that’s not chicken feed!

Worse yet, over one-third of U.S. producers surveyed admitted they did not track the percentage of full- value pigs they sold at all.

 

Go for the Gold

Like Olympians, the challenges that lie ahead in the pork industry will require dedication, attention to detail and the help and support of others.  New techniques, unflinching focus and motivation move athletes to the next level. In the coming months, many of you will face obstacles and challenges that rival those of our Olympic athletes. Strive to achieve your “personal best.” I hope to see you on the winner’s podium.