There is a quiet revolution taking place in today's pork industry. Litter sizes are climbing with each uptick in the number of total born and born alive, providing tremendous potential to change farm throughput, according to Minnesota swine veterinarian Tim Loula.

“What we once thought was a big litter will become the herd average,” as operations reach 30 pigs per sow per year — and turn a dream into a reality, he reported at the 18th Annual Carthage Veterinary Service Swine Conference last fall in Macomb, Ill.

Loula, senior partner of the Swine Vet Center at St. Peter, Minn., says when producers hear about the trend to 30 pigs per sow per year, they raise two questions:

  • What if I'm losing $20-30 per pig?
  • What if I get a lot of small pigs that I have to sell light?

His answer comes with a review of pig history. Thirty years ago, the late Al Leman, DVM, returned from England saying the United States needed to get to 20 pigs per sow per year to compete with the Europeans, Loula recalls. At the time, U.S. herds were at 14 pigs per sow per year.

By the 1990s, almost all breeding herds were achieving 20 pigs per sow per year. Today, many systems are hitting 25 pigs per sow per year, and some are on the threshold of 30 pigs per sow per year, reaching that level for weeks, and individual sows are achieving 40 pigs per sow per year, he observes.

Sure, weaned pig, sow feed and liquid propane fuel costs have risen significantly. “But weaning more pigs/sow significantly decreases these costs/pig weaned,” Loula says.

For example, when sow feed costs $0.13 per lb., 1 ton of feed per sow per year = $260 per sow per year. Based on those prices, he calculates increased sow production lowers pig costs as follows:

22 pigs per sow per year = $11.82 per pig;

25 pigs per sow per year = $10.40 per pig; and

30 pigs per sow per year = $8.67 per pig.