Achieving good production numbers requires managing young pigs as soon as they hit the finishing floor.

As pork producers, we all would like to sit around with our peers and brag about good production closeout numbers for finishing: 2.6 feed conversion, 2 lb./day average daily gain and less than 2% mortality.

But in order to brag about good production numbers, we must be able to continuously achieve them — and that requires managing those young pigs as soon as they hit the finishing floor.

Old Production Model

Under the old production model, there was often a lag period from when we evaluated finishing closeout numbers to when the group actually closed. This caused important details to be lost over time.

It is a very similar situation to driving down a road and waiting until you become completely lost before stopping to read the map.

We could ask several questions about problems with finishing performance:

  • Why was feed efficiency so bad?

  • Why was growth rate so slow?

  • Why was death loss so high and when did these deaths occur?

  • Were there barn factors that drove the numbers?

  • Were there people factors that drove the poor numbers?

Too often, the questions were asked too late to find good answers.

New Production Model

Under the new production model, the factors that drive productive group closeouts must be thoroughly understood. This understanding will clearly lead us to early finishing management of the pig and its environment. We need to be able to react in “real time” to problems that develop, and work to prevent problems by planning ahead.

In the new system, summarizing closeout data and immediately reviewing the factors that drove the numbers are critical steps to making sure the next group performs better.

In today's world of technology and real-time communication, the good news is that there are many record-keeping systems that allow us to analyze finishing groups in a real-time manner. We can look at daily or weekly mortality records, evaluate feed intake weekly, understand which groups are receiving antibiotics, and know how many daily/weekly injections of antibiotics are being given to the group.

Production Drivers

It is extremely important to understand that in order to achieve solid production numbers, the top 10 production drivers (see above) must be followed. They are like the interrelated links of a common chain pulling in the same direction.

If all factors are focused on and performed well, the combined effect can and will produce powerful outcomes.

A producer running a finishing system cannot pick one or two things to do extremely well, ignore other key factors and expect to get good production numbers.

Let's review the factors of early finishing care management that help drive good production numbers.

Good Sow Farm Health

When placing a 50-lb. pig in a finisher, it is sometimes hard to remember that this animal entered the production system with a sow being bred almost 200 days ago.

Health stability on the sow farm creates uniform output flow, larger and thriftier pigs at weaning, as well as less disease transmitted from the sow to the piglet to be carried off into the production system.

Clearly, it is beyond the scope of this article to review the factors that create proper sow farm health, but we must be aware that it is difficult to have good finishing numbers without good sow farm health to start with.

Quality Finishing Management

I often hear: “If you want me to get good finishing numbers, give me good pigs.”

This is certainly a true statement.However, as this review will illustrate, there are many factors that can turn good pigs into average pigs by improper early finishing management.

We must deal with all types of pigs that enter the finishing system, and be prepared to make them perform the best that we possibly can.

The most important reason for limiting the number of pig sources is to limit the number of disease pathogens that enter the finishing flow.

In addition, immunity levels between piglets will vary from source to source depending on exposure of the sows and, therefore, exposure of the piglets during the farrowing and nursery periods. Without exception, pigs in an individual finishing barn should be comprised of pigs that come from one nursery building.

Quality Daily Chores

To achieve quality daily chores, the producer must meet the individual needs of each pig in the barn on a daily basis. This includes feed, water, air and health management.

The first and most important point to remember is — it is impossible to perform quality daily chores without being in the barn. Being in the finishing barn and focused on chores for a morning and an afternoon walk-through is critical.

The morning walk-through is usually the more thorough, during which each individual pig should be carefully observed. The afternoon walk-through can be a quick visual observation to check for major problems in feed, water or ventilation areas.

Chores can be broken down into observations at the barn level, the pen level and the pig level.

At the barn level, it is important to step into the barn and spend a few seconds understanding what the barn is telling you. Let your observational skills go to work. What is the temperature? What is the humidity? Is the ventilation system working? Are the curtains operational? Is the feed system working? Are there abnormal noises? Are there abnormal smells?

At the pen level, be sure to check for individual items within the pen that affect pig production. Is there feed in the feeder? Is the feeder adjusted correctly? Is the water flow adequate? How are the pigs lying within the pen? Are pen floors wet? Is diarrhea present?

At the pig level, instead of seeing a sea of pigs, teach yourself to see every individual pig. It does not matter if there are 200 pigs or 2,000 pigs in the barn. Each pig must be observed. This process does not take long.

When looking at each pig, note posture, position in the pen, respiration rate, attitude and even facial expression. You can easily learn to systematically start from the pig's head and work back to the pig's butt, so nothing is missed.

Initially, you think this process is going to take an unreasonable amount of time. However, I am quite confident that most individuals can walk a 1,000-head finishing barn, under normal disease conditions, and accomplish all of these evaluations in approximately one hour.

Individual Animal Treatments

There are two important points to remember regarding individual animal treatments:

  1. Rate of success is much greater if sick animals are identified in the early stages of a disease. This is very intuitive, yet often not put into good barn practice.

  2. Early treatment of infectious disease can limit the spread of pathogens throughout the herd, and affect the disease level of the entire barn, not just the treated individuals. You can't find sick pigs early without looking at each pig every day.

A system of quality chores allows you to find the sick pig early, get a good individual treatment response, and have an impact on the overall disease experience in the barn by keeping pathogen levels below critical thresholds.

I often hear: “It does no good to treat individual pigs because few recover.” To me, this comment should be translated into, “By the time I get the pig treated, it is too sick to get better.”

Disease transmission through a finishing barn can be much like exponential mathematics. Growth of bacteria or growth of human population can be graphed as shown in Figure 1 (page 7). Getting sick pigs treated early when clinical signs are minimal may influence the later phase of rapidly increasing numbers of sick pigs in the barn (similar to population growth after 1800, as compared to before 1800, as illustrated in Figure 1).

Often, the use of injectable antibiotics is overlooked as a strategy for combating disease and reducing pathogen spread in the case of individual pen and herd treatments.

Ventilation Management

There should be a written plan for ventilation management of finishing barns. Following up to make sure this plan is drafted is extremely important.

When the truck is backed up to the barn and ready to unload the next set of pigs, it is critical that the barn ventilation system is ready to receive the pigs.

Make sure:

  • The controller is reset to meet minimum ventilation requirements.

  • Pig temperature requirements are determined based on size and health.

  • All fans are clean and completely operational.

  • All building curtains are functional, level and without holes.

  • The curtain drops are fully operational.

  • All air inlets are working, clean and open.

  • The heaters are set correctly on the controller and prepared to operate.

  • Backup thermometers are reset to meet new group needs.

  • Soffit attic inlets are clean and open.

  • Alarms are set and tested.

The critical component to early finishing barn management is that a ventilation plan is reviewed and the barn is set up correctly to meet the immediate needs of the incoming group.

Arrival time is a critical stress point in the life of a pig. Correcting ventilation settings after the group has been placed in the finishing barn for several days can have serious consequences.

Water Flow and Quality

During the downtime between finishing groups, when the barn is being washed, cleaned and disinfected, make sure the water cups get rinsed out and thoroughly dried. Any moist surface is a candidate for bacteria and viruses to persist and infect the next set of pigs.

Prior to pigs arriving, each individual water cup should be checked for flow, and rinsed out and filled with clean, fresh water. Flow rate is critical as it affects the pigs' ability to consume the correct amount of water each day.

If flow rate is too high, it can lead to overfilling of the manure management system. Most of the time, 1 quart/minute adequately meets the needs of the pigs and the barn.

The common problem I see in finishing barns is that there are 40-50 water delivery cups per barn, and there is tremendous variation between units because not every cup is checked prior to entry.

Feed Quality, Flowability

It sounds like such a simple statement that pigs need feed in order to grow, but it is common to see empty feeders when walking finishing barns.

In today's production systems, since many finishing barns are not on the “home farm,” it is not as easy to hear the feed system running empty.

Evaluate the feed system to make sure it is in good repair, and evaluate feed quality to make sure feed flowability is achieved. This is extremely critical when dealing with feeders that hold a small amount of a pig's daily feed intake.

Health Management Plan

Working closely with your veterinarian and doing your homework allows a thorough understanding of disease risks so prevention strategies can be put in place. These may include:

  • Sow farm health strategies;
  • Pig flow alterations;
  • Vaccine options;
  • Antibiotic choices; and
  • Feedgrade antibiotic protocols.

Prevention is always a better option than treatment.

Arrival Strategy

In addition to having the feed, water and ventilation systems ready when pigs arrive, it is important that the barn is ready. This means the barn is clean, disinfected, dried and that repairs are completed.

When pigs come to the barn, they should “gate cut” into individual pens, allowing for individual pig variation within each pen. Sick or disadvantaged pigs should be sorted off and placed into hospital pens. The hospital pens should be in the warmest area of the barn with inlets adjusted so drafts are minimized.

Trucking

The truck ride from the nursery to the finishing barn is actually the first section of the finishing turn. It is critical to ensure that the truck ride is evaluated on a regular basis and adjustments for outside temperatures are made to the truck. Take the time to note the condition of the pigs as they exit the truck to see if they are chilled or overheated.

Manure Pit Management

This is included in the management list because it can affect air quality in the barn, fly populations, and ventilation quality in August and September prior to pits being pumped in the fall.

Making sure there are no full pits in the fall takes year 'round planning. As noted above, water flow should be monitored throughout the year. Monitor the pit pumping to make sure that all manure is removed and agitation strategies remove the crust so that fly populations do not become excessive.

Summary

Think through, evaluate and plan how implementation of each production and management step listed above can be accomplished. It is much more critical that all steps get implemented well rather than implementing one or two steps extremely well.

As a veterinarian, I am biased toward disease. Yet I know that it is difficult, if not impossible, to have a quality finishing turn without managing and minimizing the effects of infectious disease.

Early disease intervention is critical to the success of pig recovery and health maintenance of the overall group. Quality chores and rapid individual pig treatment are key parts of this program.

It is obvious to me that the producers who can brag about 2.6 feed efficiencies, 2.0 lb./day average daily gains and fewer than 2% mortalities are those who manage and execute the strategies outlined above on a daily basis.

Top 10 Production Drivers

Eisenmenger's top 10 factors that drive good closeout production numbers:

  1. Develop good sow farm health and quality nursery turns with limited number of sources and fast fill times;

  2. Follow all-in, all-out finishing production, keeping groups in a narrow age range and quick fill times;

  3. Perform quality daily chores;

  4. Implement an arrival pig strategy program;

  5. Maintain a ventilation management plan;

  6. Provide easily available, quality water with correct flow rates;

  7. Maintain consistent feed quality and flowability;

  8. Follow a solid health management plan;

  9. Analyze trucking patterns of pigs in and out of finishing; and

  10. Implement a manure pit management plan.