This first in the Quarterly Benchmarking series reinforces the importance of effectively using accurate production records.

The goal of this new series is to help pork producers squeeze greater efficiencies out of their production systems. This is a great challenge as U.S. producers strive to be the least-cost, highest-quality producers of pork around the globe.

In doing so, every producer must have a reference point from which to start and goals in mind to help prioritize and focus resources.

The benchmarking data presented in these quarterly reports will allow producers to compare their herd's performance relative to others. In this effort, producers should establish goals in key production areas in which action plans can be developed and where improvement can be economically made.

The Database

The first step in the benchmarking process is establishing accurate data collection and standardization procedures. Joining in this effort is Swine Management Services (SMS), LLC, Fremont, NE (see sidebar).

The SMS Swine Smart Production Analysis software extracts key information from farm-based records to create reports based on the company's “key performance indicators,” or KPIs.

Table 1 lists several key performance indicators that will provide a base for the quarterly benchmarking articles. These KPIs are concentrated on breeding herd performance, where the bulk of production records are available. Therefore, the benchmarking series will focus on sow performance.

Throughout the series, KPIs may be added or dropped, in accordance with the focus of each quarterly report.

For example, when seasonal production slumps occur, we will focus on identifying the key performance measures contributing to the slump, then offer a means of correcting them.

The KPIs used in this series appear in Table 1.

Compare Apples to Apples

In any attempt to benchmark production performance with others, it is essential to compare “apples to apples.” In other words, for valid comparisons, be sure the performance values in your reports are calculated using the same formulas as the figures you are comparing.

In this case, SMS uses the formulas adopted by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) Production & Financial Standards.

Rankings, Data Points

For the overall ranking (Top 10%, etc.), all farms are ranked using the KPI “pigs weaned/mated female/year” (highlighted in Table 1). Then, data from all farms are represented within the respective rows or categories.

In addition to the breakout by performance level, the data is summarized for 52-week and 13-week time periods, thereby allowing us to evaluate short- and long-term trends.

Some KPIs, such as farrowing rate, total pigs born/female farrowed and pigs weaned/female farrowed, will be presented in every Quarterly Benchmarking report. However, other KPIs, such as average parity of cull sows or mated female death loss (see example below), may be of particular interest when focusing on animal well-being or measuring the impacts of sow housing management changes (i.e., pen vs. stall gestation).

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Benchmarking Example

A good example of how benchmarking information is valuable is in tracking sow performance. The top 10% of farms reported 10.75 weaned pigs/female farrowed (13-week data) at an average parity of 3.30; mortality rate among mated females was 5.1% (see table).

By comparison, the bottom 25% of herds averaged 8.75 weaned pigs/female farrowed at a parity average of 3.02 and mortality rate of mated females was 9.4%.

When comparing the top 10% to the average of all farms, much of the performance difference likely can be attributed to stockmanship. If you agree, it's apparent that good stockmanship pays dividends through 0.30 more pigs weaned/female farrowed and a 3.7% reduction in breeding herd mortality rates. Similar performance differences are found in the 52-week benchmarking data.

Clearly, if you take care of the sows, they will take care of you.

Focus on Accuracy

I would be remiss if I did not point out the importance of properly training employees to accurately enter data into any recordkeeping software template.

A good example is the importance of distinguishing between a piglet that was stillborn and one that was born alive, but died. The difference is easily evaluated by placing the lungs of a dead piglet in a container of water. If the lungs float, the piglet was born alive, and the lungs inflated with air as it took at least one breath. If the lungs sink, the piglet never took a breath and was truly a stillborn piglet.

The actions taken to reduce stillborns and preweaning mortality are quite different.

Producers and managers use records every day to make production and financial decisions. To make good decisions, your records must be accurate. Therefore, to ensure events are recorded accurately, additional training of new or existing employees may be required.

An operation becomes more efficient only if managers know where and how the processes can be improved.

New Production Indicators

In time, we may need to reevaluate which key production indicators are most important to individual operations, as well as the industry as a whole. What new measures should we consider as the “next generation” of key production indicators?

We need only look at dramatically changing feed prices to understand that we must find new means of improving efficiencies. Changes will come. It is how producers adopt change that could be the difference between success and failure in the pork production business.

The May benchmarking article will focus on what it takes to maximize total born alive and minimize pre-weaning mortality.

If you have thoughts or questions about how to best utilize this benchmarking information, contact Stalder at stalder@iastate.edu; National Hog Farmer Editor Dale Miller at dpmiller@nationalhogfarmer.com; or the SMS staff (see sidebar).

View Table 1 in a new window

Table 1. Database Benchmarking and Ranking*
13-Week Benchmarking Data 52-Week Benchmarking Data
Key Performance Indicators Top 10% Top 25% All Farms Bottom 25% Top 10% Top 25% All Farms Bottom 25%
Number of farms 31 78 314 77 34 85 343 84
Mated females 36,591 128,992 529,620 87,526 27,150 114,287 584,352 107,634
Pigs weaned/mated female/year 27.09 25.69 22.67 17.88 26.95 25.41 22.37 18.71
Wean to 1st service interval, days 5.96 6.44 7.21 8.78 5.81 6.41 6.92 8.22
Farrowing rate, % 88.1 86.1 82.0 74.4 88.6 86.0 82.4 75.8
Total pigs born/female farrowed 13.05 12.84 12.17 11.64 13.13 12.70 12.11 11.74
Pigs born live/female farrowed 11.96 11.74 11.04 10.39 12.04 11.62 10.98 10.52
Pigs weaned/female farrowed 10.75 10.45 9.63 8.75 10.76 10.34 9.53 8.89
Piglet survival, % 84.63 82.71 80.22 74.82 84.39 83.35 79.85 75.38
Average age at weaning, days 19.81 18.77 18.71 19.06 19.25 18.61 18.73 18.43
Average parity 2.24 1.86 2.09 2.02 2.55 2.23 2.19 1.85
Avg. parity of farrowed sows 3.30 3.24 3.25 3.02 3.42 3.18 3.28 2.87
Avg. parity of culled sows 3.38 2.86 3.20 3.14 3.27 2.90 2.92 2.94
Death rate of mated females, % 5.1 6.5 8.8 9.4 6.1 6.8 9.1 10.6
*Source: Swine Management Services, LLC
About the Benchmarking Database

Swine Management Services (SMS), LLC, Fremont, NE, is an independent, privately owned company offering information solutions to the swine industry. Co-owned by Ron Ketchem and Mark Rix, the SMS database reflects information collected on over 600,000 sows from nearly 350 data-sharing farms in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

Rix and Ketchem, with over 60 years of combined experience in the swine industry, provide independent and objective production analysis through their Swine Smart Production Analysis software, which extracts key production information from swine records and creates production reports based on the firm's key performance indicators (KPI's). These reports highlight areas of good production as well as areas that need improving.

Rix served on the committee responsible for developing the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) Production and Financial Standards, which SMS has adopted to ensure continuity in all its reports. SMS was an early adopter of Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) and Statistical Process Control (SPC) charts in the swine industry. Examples of SMS reports, presented in an easy-to-read, graphical format, are posted on their secure web site: www.swinems.com.

For additional information, contact Swine Management Services, LLC, 1044 W. 23rd St., Suite B, Fremont NE 68025; (402) 727-6600; fax: (402) 727-7270; or e-mail: mark.rix@swinems.com; ron.ketchem@swinems.com.