A few near-term adjustments could help ready your hog operation for long-term survival.

My route to the office each day takes me across the low, swampy backwaters of the Minnesota River. I cross a mile-long bridge that dissects this marshland, teaming with birds and wildlife.

One day last week, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large hawk descending toward the six-lane bridge, headed for the marshy tract on the other side. As the large bird glided past me, he quickly pulled up from his dive when he realized he was about to crash headlong into a semi-trailer running in the adjoining lane.

He didn't make it!

It was one of those blink-of-an-eye moments that leave you wondering — what was he thinking? Did he even see the big truck, or was he so focused on his morning meal that he was oblivious to his surroundings?

As I pondered the poor bird's demise, I began thinking about how easy it is to become so preoccupied with what the future holds that we sometimes miss the daily opportunities that will carry us to those distant days.

Staying Competitive

Undoubtedly, it's good to have a long-range, strategic plan, but it should not come at the expense of making the near-term adjustments needed to secure our viability.

Here are a few short-term adjustments that might help you hit your long-term targets:

  • Check every feeder

    Adjusting feeders is an easy chore to neglect, but when feed costs double, it's an activity that costs virtually nothing and the payback can be considerable. An excellent guide to feeder adjustment can be found at Kansas State University's Web site, www.KSUSwine.org.

  • Check all diets

    The KSU site also offers several “calculators” to check the economics of adding fat, using DDGS, grinding feed to proper particle size and pricing amino acids.

  • Feed budgeting and phase feeding

    It's not unusual for producers to feed expensive first and second nursery diets too long. Discipline yourself to move to the next phase diet when appropriate.

  • Work with your crop-farming neighbors

    AgStar's Mark Greenwood tells pork producer clients to ask for first right of refusal to buy their corn. Valuable manure can help reduce fertilizer costs, so strike a deal that's mutually beneficial.

  • Cull hard

    After you've culled the open, lame and poor-performing sows, cull another 5% from the bottom tier of your sow herd.

  • Sell lighter

    Reducing market weights by just 5 lb. reduces the total pork supply by about 2%. Feed conversion begins slipping as pigs near heavier market weights. Talk to your packer. Ask him to buy into the weight reduction program for the betterment of the industry.

Common Sense COOL Rules

In January, I attended the Banff Pork Seminar in Alberta, Canada. The mood was dismal. High feed prices, low market hog and cull sow prices, a labor shortage, fear of the fallout from country-of-origin labeling (COOL), and the Canadian dollar's value at par with U.S. currency were weighing heavily on the minds of our neighbors to the north.

With roughly nine million Canadian pigs destined for U.S. packers each year, it's no wonder COOL gives Canadian pork producers the jitters.

Pigs from Canadian sows bred in January will have to abide by the COOL rules, assuming they go into effect as planned on Sept. 30.

U.S. packers have not been very forthcoming about their willingness to accept and process Canadian-born pigs, partially because the COOL rules are still being drafted. Logic tells us that U.S. packers will buy those hogs. Collectively, they have the capacity to handle them, and they're certainly unlikely to leave 8-10% of their kill capacity unfulfilled.

Good sense, if there were any left in Washington, would dictate that the COOL rule-writers include a phase-in period, giving producers, packers and retailers an opportunity to make adjustments.

When COOL rules were enacted for seafood, they were allowed a six-month phase-in period. Seafood suppliers are required to document where the fish were caught — not where they were spawned. Shouldn't pigs be treated similarly? Regardless of where the pigs were born, if they were fed U.S. grains, raised and slaughtered in the United States, isn't that essentially the same thing?

Food for Thought

A quote attributed to Johann Paul Freidrich Richter, a humorist writer in the 16th century, seems appropriate here: “Sleep, riches and health, to be truly enjoyed, must be interrupted.”

The same could be said of high hog prices. Profitability will return. Tighten your belts, your feeders and your culling standards and you'll have made the adjustments that will prevent the type of crash landing that befell that poor bird attempting to cross rush hour traffic last week. Hang in there.