Morgan Hill farm manager Jeff Coby likes things easy and simple. His philosophy to boosting pig numbers is to let the sows do the work. He helps out only when needed, allowing nature to take its course.
Hog barns at the 500-sow, farrow-to-finish operation at Winamac, IN, are kept clean as a whistle. In the sow barns, manure is scraped out right after all farrowings, and alleys are swept after each of the twice-a-day feedings.
Coby says when things are kept neat, clean and repaired, the five employees on staff have better attitudes and are more focused on raising more pigs.
Production is very good; the farm weaned 28.3 pigs/sow/year (p/s/y) for the last year or so and marketed 27.1 p/s/y, farm veterinarian Tom Gillespie of Rensselaer, (IN) Swine Services reports. Preweaning mortality averaged 4.2% on over 12,000 pigs marketed the last 12 months.
To achieve those results, the farm staff works hard to reduce the biggest causes of pig losses: laid-ons and runts. To stop crushing, the bar on farrowing crates was moved to the lowest position so sows can't roll over onto pigs so easily.
Dealing with runts is more involved, but has brought positive results. “We keep the runts (unless they are tiny) and work with them. A lot of people argue the runts aren't worth the trouble. My argument is on this farm we make it work and it is worth it,” Coby says.
Management steps for producing quality pigs include:
Pigs are crossfostered to equalize litters on sows the day after farrowing. “We try to minimize fostering, but we use it when we have to and we still see it as a pretty big tool to save little pigs,” Coby explains. “We like to have second- or third-parity sows with smaller teats for the smaller pigs to suckle.”
Electrolytes mixed with water and feed to create “mush” is another big tool to help save runt pigs.
A milk replacer pan placed on the floor behind farrowing crates is used for groups that need help achieving bloom.
“We mix it up in a bucket and put it in cups on the floor until pigs take off, then we take it away and rely on the nurse sow,” he explains. Sows are made to work to stimulate milk flow and keep all of their teats functional. Runt pigs are not kept on milk replacer too long because it is expensive and becomes a management crutch.
Rubber mats and heat lamps are preferred over heat mats. If the lamps are on, then the mats are working to keep pigs toasty, removing the guesswork.
Sometimes healthy pigs will be weaned off a nurse sow and placed in a holding area in the room alley, while another group of small pigs are placed to nurse her until they are ready to wean.
Routine keeps Morgan Hill functioning smoothly, from adjusting sow feeders every Wednesday for sow condition to breeding and weaning on Thursdays. “We are small enough that we can do that, and it keeps everybody focused on doing their jobs. That way we can make sure we always have the best person available for the job,” Coby says.