Two Indiana producers have used PigCHAMP sow records since their veterinary clinic first tested the industry's leading recordkeeping program.
The year was 1986. USDA's Hog & Pigs Report found 395,510 hog farms in the country on Dec. 1, 1985. Ninety-three percent of hog farms had less than 500 head. USDA reported a weaned pigs/litter average of 7.67 the previous fall. Recordkeeping on many hog farms meant logging information with pencil and paper.
In 1986, clients of Swine Veterinary Services, Greensburg, IN, began beta testing PigCHAMP's first sow herd recordkeeping program, which was being launched by the University of Minnesota.
"It was 1986, if you wanted to do PigCHAMP, you had to buy a computer," explains Larry Rueff, DVM at the clinic. "In the mid-80s, nobody did records. Today we take it for granted that people have the programs."
Charlie Beggs, Greensburg, and Jim Douglas, Flat Rock, IN, were two of the producers who began PigCHAMP records in 1986 or 1987. Both farms have used the information gathered on their sow productivity to expand and efficiently manage those larger sow herds.
Much like the PigCHAMP bureaus of today, the veterinary clinic staff did the data entry for producers in 1986.
"Both of these herds reflect the industry in the sense that they penmated 100- to 150-sow herds," Rueff says. "Today, they are total AI, total crate gestation, 300- and 700-sow herds, (respectively). The information they had for their 100 or 200 sows helped them make a decision to expand."
Indeed, Douglas took seven years of data on his 120-sow, penmated, outdoor gestated herd and decided to expand in 1994. His PigCHAMP records showed 16 pigs/sow/year and 68% farrowing percentage.
The herd was expanded to 300 sows, with gestation, farrowing and nursery facilities on the home farm and finishing at another site. But, Douglas did not realize the productivity gains he expected from the transition to crated indoor gestation and handmating.
"Since 1994, we were really challenged with getting productivity out of the sow herd, compared to what the norm should be," Douglas says. "Grow-finish and nursery performance were fine, but we continued to suffer in the sow herd."
Douglas' efforts were then divided. He expanded the herd to 700 sows and implemented total AI by 1997. In addition, he investigated why the new line of sows did not produce any more pigs than their outdoor-gestated predecessors. He set a goal - to reach the PigCHAMP national average. For reference, averages for 1999 were 76.4% farrowing percentage and 19.6 p/s/y.
"We questioned every avenue there was," Douglas says. "If you don't have sow productivity, you don't have anything. The rest of the system does not work."
So, Douglas and Rueff began examining every aspect of the operation. In fact, the expansion made the mystery even more complicated. Douglas had brought new employees and genetics into the operation at the same time.
First, they quickly determined no major health issues were causing the problems.
Second, gilt feeding and acclimation were examined and deemed to be correct.
Then, they examined the sensitive issue of personnel. Rueff explains that they checked the employees' work methods and how they treated the animals. They found the employees were properly trained and performing their jobs well.
The last link in the chain was genetics. Between 1994 and 1998, Douglas changed genetics three times. First, new animals were brought in when the herd was expanded to 300 sows. In 1996, he switched to another line from the same supplier but found no improvement in productivity.
Finally, in April 1998, with the farrowing percentage still at 70% and 7.9 pigs/weaned/litter, Douglas decided to switch maternal line genetics again, turning to Premier Genetics gilts.
Records now show they had found the glitch in the system.
"The reality was that previous genetics did not fit this farm," Rueff says. "That point was proven out by the next step that different genetics worked better."
Indeed, in 1999, as the farm incorporated the new genetics without depopulating, farrowing rate increased to 76%, and p/s/y climbed to 18.
Douglas' 2000 farrowing rate increased to 80.3% and p/s/y to 19.1. Pigs weaned/litter is at 8.3. Sow mortality dropped from 10% in 1998 to 3.6% in 2000.
Rueff acknowledges that the pigs weaned/litter needs improvement. "We still have some weaning issues to work on, but our productivity has moved drastically forward," he says.
Batch Farrow System Beggs used his records to determine what type of operation he and a partner needed when they expanded their operation to 300 sows.
In 1997, he had 100 sows split into three groups with outdoor gestation and natural mating. He expanded to 300 sows with batch farrowing, crated indoor gestation and AI. Five groups were formed, with 13 farrowings a year.
Weaning was dropped from 4-5 weeks of age to 19 days of age. All-in, all-out (AIAO) was implemented.
"The decision was made to be a part of the new production technologies," Beggs says. Clinic records reinforced this production style's success.
Beggs admits being skeptical that breeding sows as soon as five days after weaning was effective. He also questioned the effectiveness of AI and the viability of early weaning 19-day-old pigs.
Matt Ackerman, DVM, produced the PigCHAMP records to support the effectiveness of the changes.
"We have data today that proves that those concerns were unfounded," he says. "At that point, having a database of other producers' records was key."
In order to fill the 48 farrowing crates with sows or gilts who farrow within five days, Beggs hired a part-time breeding manager. His sole responsibility was to breed sows for one week every month.
That move freed Beggs and other employees to handle the cropping side of the operation. Beggs' son is responsible for the farrowing house care.
Hiring the breeding manager has paid off for Beggs with a farrowing rate of 87.2%. Beggs' target is to have 50 or 51 sows in a 58-sow group farrow a litter. The farm is exceeding the target of 432 pigs weaned/group by 5%.