If you haven't made the switch to all-in, all-out (AIAO) production yet, now is the time!

As margins narrow, even in the face of low grain/feed prices, every producer must use every efficiency factor at his/her disposal.

If you are already using AIAO production, let's review:

* Are you using AIAO in all phases?

* Are you capturing all the advantages a well-managed, AIAO system can offer?

* Are there phases of your system that could be improved by a stricter AIAO schedule?

There is no set system that works best on all farms. Most units built in the last few years were designed for AIAO and pig flow. However, just because units were designed for AIAO, doesn't ensure they are being managed correctly for top productivity or profitability.

The basic concept behind AIAO is to keep a group of pigs together throughout production. With each move, pigs are given a "fresh start" because facilities have been vacated, cleaned and disinfected.

AIAO works for several reasons: improved sanitation, less disease transmission, easier to adapt phase feeding methods, more accurate production records, more accurate medication and better use of labor.

The key element of the AIAO concept is the all-out element. When the room or building is completely emptied after each group, the area can be cleaned and disinfected - a major reason for improved efficiency.

AIAO can be done by pen, by room, by building or by site (farm). With each step up, disease prevention improves because direct contact by pigs of different ages and health status is improved.

AIAO by pen is of limited value because younger pigs share the same air space making disease spread likely.

AIAO by room is better, but it's difficult to have separate air flow, people traffic and manure storage and handling for each room.

Health security improves tremendously when an entire building is operated AIAO. The disease threat from one group to the next is reduced unless there are many buildings on one site and a wide age spread. If animal and people traffic are controlled, the only major risk is airborne disease spread.

Two-site, three-site, multi-site and wean-to-finish buildings all lend themselves to AIAO pig flow.

Since over 60% of the cost of production is incurred after the pig reaches 40 lb., the potential payback from improved efficiency is very high when AIAO is used in finishers.

Depending on the level of performance you've been able to achieve without AIAO, 7% improved feed conversion, 12% increased daily gain and death loss reduction are achievable.

Strict AIAO creates a whole new set of challenges. Coordinating pig flow throughout the entire operation is probably the most difficult, particularly in older operations where buildings, pens and rooms vary in size. When remodeling or building new, make sure all the rooms can handle the proper number of pigs.

Preventing pigs of different ages from sharing air space is another major challenge. Aerosol spread of respiratory diseases from group to group will reduce the benefits of AIAO even if the schedule is strictly adhered to and sanitation between groups is good.

Employees must be kept well informed on production events. Failure to get pigs moved and rooms cleaned usually has a ripple effect throughout the operation.

Case Study A 1,200-sow herd had confinement and outside facilities. The pig flow was AIAO in both, with batches filling the space in one group.

The outside facility had 1.61 average daily gain (ADG) and 3.37 feed conversion (FC). The inside facility had 1.78 ADG and 2.95 FC. Death loss and percentage of substandard pigs was the same for both.

Both sites used a "single-day sell," which appeared to have some "cost" because substandard pigs were discounted. Sites were totally emptied, washed and refilled.

The herd is positive for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), Mycoplasmal pneumonia, circovirus, and had some episodes of Streptococcus suis, encephalitis and ileitis. Still, death loss from weaning to slaughter was under 6% and light and cull pigs were about 4% at closeout.

Seeing the huge difference in performance, outside vs. confinement, the producer's goal was to confine all pigs. The facility had several rooms and the pig flow was now AIAO, by room, instead of by facility or site. He also moved light pigs between rooms; percentage at full value appeared to increase.

However, the first closeouts for the facility were not as good as hoped. ADG was 1.53 with 3.25 FC, by room. AIAO was being compromised. Pigs were being shuffled between rooms, pens of pigs were being mixed. With a larger age spread within the same air space, health was worsening. Although he had his pigs in better facilities, the compromises within those rooms were far more costly than the lesser performance at the outdoor AIAO site.

Bending the rules for AIAO pig flow is generally caused by a failure to achieve consistent weekly (batch) production. The only solution is to achieve weekly production targets and leave some spaces empty if targets aren't met.