Family-owned, farrow-to-nursery and finishing sites focus on improving pigs-weaned averages.

For anyone looking for a “typical, well-run” hog farm while on tour in Brazil, a stop by the Folhados Farms near Patrocino, in the state of Minas Geres, would be in order, according to consulting veterinarian, Glauber Machado, partner in the specialized consulting company Integrall Solutions.

Two brothers and two sisters own the Folhados Farms, with brother Guilherme Queiroz in charge of the two-site swine operation and a nearby dairy. The hog operation includes a finishing site constructed in 1981, and a 1,600-sow, breeding-through-nursery site built in 1992, which is being expanded to 2,000 sows.

The farm has 50 employees, down from 70 in recent years. Their goal is to trim the employee roster to 30 by incorporating additional automation in a relatively labor-intensive operation, explains farm manager Luiz Carlos Crestani.

Maternal lines feature Large White and Landrace genetics; a recent switch to French PenArLan hybrid lines, a combination of Meishan, Landrace and Large White bloodlines was made to improve number born alive and weaned.

Breeding/Gestation

Sows are bred and gestated in one barn, then moved to another for the last 30-35 days of gestation. Crestani explains the move is to increase feeding levels the final 30-plus days before farrowing. Relocating the sows is easier than identifying and feeding near-term sows in the larger breeding-gestation facilities, he says.

Farrowing Performance

A quick look at the farm's PigChamp data from 2001 and 2004 shows the average pigs born alive in 2001, 9.5, had improved to 11.6 in 2004. The most recent 365-day period available was from July 1, 2003 through June 30, 2004. Stillborn and mummies accounted for less than a pig per litter in both years.

Average piglet birth weights were at 3.1 lb. in 2004 (data was not available for 2001). In 2001, the farm was weaning 8.7 pigs/litter, but more impressively, that average climbed to 11.0 in 2004. Weaning weights averaged 10.8 lb. at an average of 16.9 days of age in 2001; in 2004, weaned pigs averaged 12.5 lb. at 21.3 days of age.

Pigs weaned/mated female/year climbed from 21.8 in 2001 to 27.2 in 2004, even though pigs were being weaned 4.4 days older, on average.

The high survival rates are a reflection of the personal attention given to sows and litters during farrowing. Three employees manage each 24-crate farrowing room on farrowing days. One attendant washes the sows whenever they get dirty, while another cares for the pigs and ensures they nurse, and a third employee processes the new litters. A night attendant is on duty to watch over all farrowing rooms.

Hover boxes with a light bulb provide some light and heat for the newborns, in addition to floor heating. Sows are milked into a small cup, and this colostrum is used to dose small, disadvantaged pigs to ensure they receive nutrients and colostral antibodies soon after birth. Pigs are crossfostered and litters standardized as soon as is reasonable.

Manager Crestani explains that pigs from the PenArLan genetic lines weigh slightly less at birth, “but they catch up quicker.” He notes that his best farrowing attendant averages less than 2% mortality in the farrowing rooms. Preweaning mortality for the herd is 5.5%.

Most sows in a room farrow early in the week. Those that have not farrowed by mid-week are induced to ensure farrowing is completed by the end of the week.

Big Nursery Pens Favored

Pigs are weaned at 22-23 days of age and moved to the nursery for a 40- to 45-day stay. Folhados Farms is currently experimenting with grouping nursery pigs in larger groups. New nurseries feature three rooms with eight pens/room and 110 pigs/pen.

Pigs will receive four different diets while in the nursery. The first is a complex feed containing cookie byproducts to entice them to eat, plus highly digestible protein and energy sources. Pigs leave the nurseries weighing 65-70 lb.

Table 1. Folhados Farms Performance Data (PigChamp)
2001 2004*
10-689 10-870 11-784 11-600
10-869 11-053 11-965 11-965
Breeding Performance
Total number of services 3,067 3,050 2,249 4,458
Percent repeat services 7.7 5.1 4.3 4.1
Percent multiple matings 98.9 100.0 99.1 99.4
Weaning — 1st service interval 6.2 5.7 5.5 5.8
Percent sows bred by 7 days 88.9 91.2 93.2 92.3
Entry — 1st service interval 22.0 19.1 11.0 8.6
Farrowing Performance
Number of sows farrowed 2,385 2,731 1,979 4,036
Avg. parity of farrowed sows 3.5 3.0 3.6 3.4
Avg. total pigs/litter 10.4 10.8 12.4 12.4
Avg. pigs born alive/litter 9.5 10.0 11.6 11.6
Avg. birth weight/liveborn pig, lb. - - 3.1 3.1
Percent stillborn pigs 4.4 4.3 3.1 3.2
Percent mummies 4.6 3.6 3.2 3.3
Farrowing rate 81.2 87.6 90.2 91.5
Adj. farrowing rate 84.9 90.9 91.7 93.2
Farrowing interval 141 140 141 141
Litters/mated female/year 2.51 2.51 2.46 2.48
Litters/crate/year - - - -
Weaning Performance
Number of litters weaned 2,265 2,726 2,086 4,206
Total pigs weaned 21,019 24,908 22,059 44,135
Pigs weaned/sow 8.7 9.2 11.0 11.0
Preweaning mortality 8.3 6.3 4.8 5.5
Avg. piglet weaned weight 10.8 11.7 13.2 12.5
Avg. age at weaning 16.9 17.5 22.4 21.3
Adj. 21-day litter weight 56 56 63 62
Pigs weaned/mated female/yr. 21.8 23.0 27.2 27.2
Pigs weaned/lifetime female 35 30 41 41
Population
Ending female inventory 2,228 2,210 1,713 1,713
Avg. parity 2.1 2.2 2.9 2.9
Avg. female inventory 2,168.3 2,210.8 1,674.1 1,636.1
Avg. gilt pool inventory 118.0 93.4 31.9 23.7
Gilts entered 957 741 435 854
Sows and gilts culled 735 685 308 723
Sow and gilt deaths 57 74 21 52
Replacement rate 89.0 66.5 52.1 52.1
Culling rate 68.4 61.5 36.9 44.1
Death rate 5.3 6.6 2.5 3.2
Avg. non-productive sow days (NPD) 55.6 45.9 32.7 30.7
Avg. NPD/parity record 17.9 14.7 11.3 10.3
*Last 365 days from July 1, 2003 to July 30, 2004

Crestani likes the larger pens because they are more efficient for employees to work the pigs, plus the pigs average 1-2 lb. heavier, he says.

Separate-Site Finishing

The second site of Folhados Farms is exclusively for finishing. The 12,600-head capacity also stocks 110 pigs/pen. Previously, this site contained buildings with suspended nursery pens. Those barns are being converted for finishing, which will bring site capacity to 16,500 head.

Three packers bid on market hogs. No finishing pigs are sold on contract to packers.

When finishing pens are vacated, they are washed and disinfected and allowed to sit empty for three days before restocking.

Employee Bonus Program

Consulting veterinarian Machado has worked with Folhados Farms to develop employee incentive programs that are mutually beneficial. One of the most interesting programs evaluates employee performance.

“Our system allows us to guarantee that every cent spent by the investor on bonuses for employees results in a very good return-on-investment,” explains Machado. The program evaluates a combination of technical data, financial results, cost of production and overall team efficiency. “All of these data go into equations that bring us a very realistic result. If the employee makes good money above his monthly income, it's because the company also wins, and all this is calculated precisely in order to guarantee such bonuses as an investment, not as one more production cost,” he adds.

Lights Out!

From 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. every day, electricity to the Folhados Farms' sites is turned off, through an agreement with their electrical provider to cut power during the peak period.

Although electricity is available for that three-hour period, the heated floors retain adequate heat so that the baby pigs remain comfortable. Water reservoirs, full when the electricity is cut, flow to drinkers by gravity.

“Feeders are automatically kept full, and three hours is not enough time for the pigs to eat everything in the feeder bin,” explains Machado. “This agreement with the electricity provider allows their company to have cheaper electricity during the day, provided they are committed to not consuming any electricity during the peak time at that region.”

An on-site generator is available for emergencies, but as we learned during our tour the first week of August, it gets dark at 6 p.m. If you're still there when the lights go out, you shower out by flashlight.

Brazil's Burgeoning Hog Industry

Much as hogs followed corn and soybean production westward in the United States, the growing acreage of the two crops is sure to spur pork production in Brazil.

Actual annual pork production figures can vary up to two million hogs, depending on whether you are reading reports from USDA or Brazil. The numbers cited here were gleaned from Brazil's Anualpec 2004 report or the 2003 Brazilian Hog and Poultry Yearbook.

In 2003, the Anualpec report noted that production was 23.7 million hogs in 1995 and 24.2 in 2000, and was projected at 31.5 million in 2004. Of those totals, roughly 65-70% represent “inspected” slaughter. Sow herd numbers were reported at 3.2 million in '95 and 3 million in both 2000 and 2004. Pigs per litter reportedly averaged 8.0 in 1995, 9.5 in 2000 and 9.7 in 2004.

In the worldwide rankings, Brazil currently stands fourth in production and exports of pork, according to Dirceu J.D. Talamini, chief executive of Embrapa Hogs and Poultry, in the 2003 Brazilian Hog and Poultry Yearbook. Pork production increased by 116% from 1994 to 2002, he adds. Currently, Denmark, the U.S. and Canada export more pork than Brazil. Brazil is the number one exporter of beef, and some foresee a big future for pork production in this South American country.

One man — Reinaldo Migliavacca, once the largest hog producer in Brazil — is credited for upgrading genetics and modernizing production methods. At the peak of his production, Migliavacca produced 15,000 hogs a year, an impressive figure for more than 30 years ago. In the mid-'50s, he recalls, a convoy of 30 truckloads of pigs would leave Santa Rosa for Sao Paulo each day.

Genetics

Most of Brazil's commercial sow herds reflect popular breeding stock programs common elsewhere in the world. PIC, Danbred, Topigs, Genetiporc and PenArLan are the five major lines in use.

Most commercial producers use artificial insemination, with semen collected on the farm.

‘The Worst is Over’

The prevailing feeling amongst Brazilian pork producers at the close of 2003 was that the 18-month span of poor demand and poor prices was nearly over, states the yearbook report.

The pork sector was beginning to see signs that the “discouraging trend derived from the market crisis that started in 2002” had finally begun to reverse. Promises of new markets and steady exports had enticed producers to expand and build new farms in 2001. The combination of markets that didn't materialize and a hike in feed prices created the 2002 crisis.

Most of the pork production occurs in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Cantrina. Geographically, the southern region is recognized as having the best production, supply and export technology, while the east-central states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais are considered more technically advanced.

In his yearbook report, Valmir Costa, Brazilian Association of Hog Raisers (ABCS) technical director, predicts the well-established companies now active in the south and southeast will develop the central-west portion of the country in the next 5-10 years. This area is attracting pork production with massive tracts of land and availability of feedstuffs.

“In Mato Grosso, the hog-raising belt surfaced in the mid-north (area) of the state in the late '90s, with its foundation on cooperatives spread across several municipalities,” the yearbook report states.

“Carrol's Foods do Brasil is a multinational company (a daughter company of Smithfield Foods in the U.S.) that also put a bet on the region, and is now implementing the biggest pig-raising enterprise across the state of Mato Grosso. They expect to have 50,000 head of breeding stock by 2007. Two complexes are already operating — one in Diamantino, with 11,000 breeding pigs, and the other in Pedra Preta with 2,000 sows.”

Some estimate Brazil has 350-400 million hectares of undeveloped land suitable for commercial farming — more than all of the “cropped” acres currently in the U.S. (One hectare equals 2.47 acres). The land is not without its challenges, however. Soils are fertile in some areas, but quite acidic in others. The acidic soils (pH 4.1) require 1.5-2.5 tons of lime/hectare to raise pH to 6.5, not to mention that all crop nutrients must be provided as well. Even with some soils demanding acidity correction and fertilizers, Brazilian grain production is very competitive in the world. The government provides no subsidies.

The climate will allow at least two crops per year, sometimes three.

Brazil boasts several advantages that favor pork production growth — ample, inexpensive labor; favorable climate; low-cost construction; and very competitive cost of production. But as the ABCS year-end report points out, some hurdles remain — high interest rates (starting at 25%), high taxes, economic instability and lack of government disease-monitoring services. High retail margins are blamed for pork's ability to compete with other meats.

Foreign, Domestic Demand

USDA estimates describe Brazil's domestic consumption as “stagnant” — averaging about 30 lb./year — but that's still double the amount recorded in 1990. The Anualpec 2004 report cites per capita consumption about 6 lb. lower.

According to USDA, Brazil's southern region eats more pork — about 44 lb./person annually. However, in the north, per capita consumption is only about 15.4 lb./year.

USDA estimates 70% of the pork consumed is in the form of processed meats, which is more expensive and, consequently, less competitive against beef and chicken.

Exports account for just over 16% of Brazil's pork production, with Russia as its largest customer, representing between 65% and 79% of Brazil's pork exports, depending on whose report is cited.

The presence of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in some areas creates a trade barrier that the Brazilian pork industry is trying to overcome. Fourteen states and the Federal District are considered FMD-free, with vaccination. Although it was an isolated case, an outbreak in Rio Grande do sul in 2000 proved to be quite disruptive.

Outbreaks of Aujesky's disease (pseudorabies) on farms in the south late in 2003 could create additional barriers, particularly in Russia.

Brazil does, however, claim to be clinically and serologically free of the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus. National serologic surveillance has been completed by official health services and no clinical signs were found in the country.