Pork producers entrust their investment in facilities and breeding stock to employees everyday. The success of the business depends on the skill level and teamwork of their staff.

Comparison of farm production records is commonly done, but the comparisons are often misleading due to differences in age of facilities, prior disease in the herd, different genetics, etc.

The checkoff-funded National Genetic Evaluation Maternal Line Program (MLP) provides a unique opportunity to examine management skills between two identical facilities stocked with the same genetics and with a prescribed management protocol.

MLP Recap In 1997, five seedstock suppliers each entered about 600 gilts from six genetic lines in three age groups. For participating seedstock suppliers and production evaluation protocols, see "Genetic Evaluation Maternal Line Program Overview" beginning on page 6. The number of gilts from each line sent to each sow farm is shown in Table 1.

Of the 3,559 gilts entered in the MLP test, 3,283 gilts were delivered to two new, identical breed-gestation-farrowing (BGF) facilities on separate sites.

The identical stocking of the matching MLP facilities offered a rare opportunity for comparison. Unique features included:

* Equal numbers of high health gilts from each genetic line;

* New sow facilities built identically by same builder within 5 miles of each other;

* No existing disease in new buildings, new sites;

* Experienced swine managers in each sow unit who were following the same management protocols;

* Weekly supervision of computer records by third party; and

* Use of electronic eartags to reduce data entry errors.

One of the main goals of the MLP was to measure sow longevity and lifetime performance through four parities. Therefore, no culling of sows or gilts was allowed unless the following occurred:

* Gilt failed to exhibit two estrus periods before 300 days of age,

* Gilt failed to conceive in three mating periods (60 days),

* Sow failed to exhibit estrus for 50 days post-weaning, or

* Sow failed to conceive in three mating periods.

Artificial insemination was used exclusively in both units. All gilts were bred on the second or later observed estrous period.

Table 2 shows the performance of herd life measures. "Average sow life" is defined as all the sow-days starting when gilts were 150 days old, ending after the fourth-parity litter was weaned, at culling (various reasons) or, of course, at death. Both sow units consistently weaned about 9.1 pigs per litter.

All females entering the two units, whether they farrowed or not, are included in "herd life" and "pigs/sow/ year" calculations. This is in agreement with the new National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) Production and Financial Standard Reporting methods.

Notice how including all gilt and sow days drastically reduces the pigs/sow/ year.

Table 2 shows more litters and larger pigs through the four parities on Farm 1. Still, the farms are identical in their rate of production - 16.68 standard pigs/sow/year.

But there is a difference in sow longevity. Farm 2 is missing 85.9 sow-years due to a 19.2-day shorter herd life for 1,637 sows. Translated, this means more replacement females (over 100 depending on reproductive assumptions) would need to be purchased, grown and placed in order to maintain full production on Farm 2.

Reproductive Differences Differences in more traditional sow measures are shown in Table 3. This table suggests that Farm 2 is the better farm since there are more pigs born/litter and sow weight loss is less. Farrowing intervals are comparable, but only sows that had litters were reported.

Sows were culled for injury, failure to conceive or deleted at death.

Table 4 shows most of the sow losses occurred within the first two age periods - but the units differed in loss rate. Farm 1 lost more gilts in the first age group while Farm 2 lost more in the second age group. By 451 days of age, the numbers of sows lost was about the same at both units.

Farm 2 had more first-parity litters but fewer second-parity litters than Farm 1 (Table 2). The large loss of sows after first parity at Farm 2 put them behind for the remainder of the program.

Impact On Costs The MLP results, using the new Production and Financial Standards, shows the profit differences between units and genetic lines. The Standards ensure all animal spaces are accounted for all of the time.

A difference in sow herd life of 19.2 days (Table 2) produces an additional cost for replacement gilt purchases, isolation and acclimatization.

The need for more replacement gilts means more first-parity litters, thus sacrificing larger, later parity litters. The costs of this lost production must be considered. And, with the incidence of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and other reproductive diseases, the frequent gilt replacements can increase costs even more.

Both management staffs did an excellent job. However, the differences in herd life were relatively large given the identical opportunity each farm had. Some differences between farms are due to random effects of disease exposure, employee skills and just plain luck.

The value of the 1,634 extra salable pigs (4.5% more) from Farm 1 is $49,000. A 4.5% difference in production over four parities seems relatively small for the sow management teams, yet it may be significant if the managers' production bonuses are based on the more variable measures.

The differences are probably smaller than you'd see on most commercial farms because so many major variables were standardized. Improvements in management still offer producers a sizable competitive advantage. Also, the differences between genetic lines are much larger than the farm differences shown here.