The focus of this issue of National Hog Farmer is “Raising Pigs Right.” As the pork industry aims for 30 pigs/sow/year, increased attention must be paid to sow and piglet care, with an eye on the goal of raising a viable market-weight pig. As producers are well aware, there are a lot of “moving parts” that go into attaining these production goals.

Critical factors early on in the process include good heat detection and successful insemination. Gestation diets also have a role to play. In this issue Laura Greiner, DVM, director of swine nutrition and research at Carthage Innovative Swine Solutions, Carthage, IL, offers thoughts on the impact of gestation diets on pig birth weights. She provides thoughtful discussion surrounding bump feeding, the process of increasing feed allowance during the last 21 days of gestation as part of a strategy to improve piglet birth weights, particularly in gilt litters.

A big part of the productivity equation, of course, also rests on the sow. According to Chris Hostetler, director of animal science for the National Pork Board, sow lifetime productivity (SLP) is defined as the total number of quality pigs that a sow weans, from the time she becomes breeding-eligible until the time she leaves the herd. He says roughly 40% of the females that are bred for the first time have fewer than nine pigs and get culled after their first parity. Another 20% of the females are culled at the second parity. The cumulative effect is that an attention-getting 60% of the sows in the U.S. breeding herd never reach a third parity.

Based on these statistics, the pork checkoff has undertaken an ambitious project to help improve SLP by 30% in seven years. Hostetler says the pork industry is currently producing an average of about 35 pigs in a sow’s lifetime. This means that a 30% improvement would boost SLP to about 42-43 pigs per sow’s lifetime. Read more about the research that is going into hitting this target in the story, “Sow Lifetime Productivity Project Gains Traction,” in our February 2014 issue of National Hog Farmer.

Delving a little deeper into some specifics of SLP, Billy Flowers, Department of Animal Science, North Carolina State University, presents research findings comparing two 2,400-head commercial sow farms and the specific factors that contribute to sow longevity success. On one farm, 26% of sows reach a sixth parity, while the other farm only sees 12% of its sows farrow six litters. Flowers explores the management activities that contribute to the difference in farms in the story, “High and Low Sow Longevity.”

Meanwhile, Larry Coleman, DVM, Broken Bow, NE, has been helping his pork producer clients focus on improving day one piglet care through implementation of 24/7 attended farrowing strategies. Coleman points out that 24/7 farrowing care offers numerous benefits ranging from decreased stillbirths to increased sow well-being.

He notes that the success — or failure — of a transition to a 24/7 care program hinges on the farm’s leadership. Coleman offers tips for successful 24/7 farrowing care in a story in the February issue of the magazine, and explores the leadership aspects that support a transition to the new attended farrowing program in the story, “The Ultimate Swine Leadership Challenge.” He provides more thoughts about providing the leadership that leads to good animal care in a guest editorial, featured on page 34, titled “Caring for Pigs: It Is a Bigger Circle Than You Think.”

In this issue you will also find a story exploring how constant swine diet-tweaking has become the norm for today’s pork producers. John Patience, Iowa State University Extension swine specialist, explains how decisions for the successful feeding program should be made in the broader context of the overall farming operation, in the context of the ingredient marketplace, and in the context of the hog marketplace. Read “Setting the Right Feeding Program,” also in the February issue.

Raising pigs right involves continuous improvement in all phases of every operation. We hope this issue of National Hog Farmer provides some food for thought. Happy reading!