For grow-finish pigs, the changes in expectations, production performance and parameters in the past 20-plus years are striking.

A good example of the change in performance expectations is shown in Table 1. This table summarizes results from two experiments, one conducted in 1980, the other in 2001. Both experiments were carried out in the same partially slotted, modified-open-front facility at similar times of the year using feeder pigs from a single source.

In Table 1, note the large increase in average daily gain, average final weight, and the large improvement in feed conversion efficiency when comparing the 2001 and 1980 trials.

There are many reasons for these performance differences. The most obvious include single-sex ('01) vs. mixed-sex pens of pigs ('80), and different feeders, genetics, health status and nutritional regimens.

This list of differences highlights many of the changes that have occurred in the finishing phase of production. As researchers, producers, nutritionists, veterinarians, equipment manufacturers and others have better understood the pig and its needs, and breeders have responded to the genetic challenge, expectations of normal performance have ratcheted higher in the past couple of decades.

Flooring Design Revisited

Another significant change during this time span is the return to putting weaned pigs on concrete slats.

In the early 1980s, woven wire flooring and decks were the rage. Producers discovered that separating weaned pigs from their manure resulted in fewer health problems and cleaner pigs, compared to housing pigs on cement slats in partially slotted nursery facilities.

Today, with the advent of wean-to-finish systems, producers are housing pigs on fully slotted floors vs. the partially slotted floors popular in the '80s. And, the diets being offered are much improved.

Table 1. Change in Finishing Pig Performance Over Time
Item 1980a 2001b
Space/pig, ft.2 9.0 7.5
Pig Weight, lb.
In 49 62
Sale 206 260
Daily Gain, lb. 1.50 1.95
Days to Market 105 102
Feed:Gain 3.34 2.72
a.J Anim. Sci. 55:1264-1271
bUniversity of Nebraska Experiment 01306, unpublished


While health challenges remain, fewer pig movements and less power washing are major forces pulling producers to try this type of pig flow.

Pens, Curtains, Ventilation

In the early '80s, as producers moved hog production from outside lots to confinement, everyone just “knew” that small pens were important to maximize performance.

Yet today, many producers are housing grow-finish pigs in confinement in large pens of 100-500 pigs and are recording excellent performance. In some straw-based systems, pens of 1,200 pigs are being used in other parts of the world.

About 20 years ago, automatic curtain controllers were just beginning to be adapted from the poultry industry. A large number of naturally ventilated finishing facilities had manual openings that were adjusted “as necessary.” This usually meant adjustments were made in the morning and in the evening.

Now any facility with curtain openings has an automatic controller to adjust environmental conditions for the pigs as needed.

Control systems for regulation of temperature in the pig zone have changed, too. Two decades ago, pork producers used mechanical thermostats, with each fan, curtain, furnace or sprinkler having a separate thermostat.

In 2002, most swine confinement facilities have electronic controllers that interlock all of the various devices. No longer does the furnace run when the summer fan is also running.

Nutritional Changes

Back in the '80s, pigs were delivered to grow-finish weighing 40-50 lb. They were offered diets formulated with corn and soybean meal containing .85% lysine. Inorganic phosphorus was added at levels that maximized bone strength in replacement gilts.

Now pigs of this size routinely receive diets containing 1% to 1.2% lysine, with some of the amino acids in the diet coming from synthetic sources. And phytase is used to reduce the amount of phosphorus in the manure.

In the '80s, we discussed screen size for hammer mills. Today, we discuss particle size of the diet and the relative advantages and disadvantages of roller mills vs. hammer mills.

Marketing

Twenty years ago, a large percentage of pigs were sold to packers on a liveweight basis.

Today, the vast majority is valued on the basis of carcass merit, generally based on a measure of backfat and loin muscle depth.

In the ‘80s, average slaughter weight was 220-225 lb. These days the average weight for market hogs is over 260 lb., with many production systems averaging 275-280 lb.

Feed Conversion

While average slaughter weights have increased significantly over the years, the pork industry has achieved great progress in feed conversion efficiencies.

In 1982, feeder pig finishers in the Iowa State University (ISU) Swine Enterprise Records program reported a feed efficiency of 3.82 lb. of feed per pound of live weight gain for growing pigs from 51 to 225 lb.

Data from the 2000 PigCHAMP data share summary on 6,342 lots of pigs in 197 herds reported a 3.09 feed: gain ratio for pigs from 57 to 250 lb.

Pig Flow, Treatment, Production Sites

In the '80s, continuous-flow facilities for finishing pigs was the norm, with all-in, all-out (AIAO) production flow just beginning to be used in farrowing and nursery facilities.

Today, AIAO flow is the norm in farrowing, nursery and finishing facilities.

It used to be that swine veterinarians dealt with chronic herd health problems including atrophic rhinitis, pneumonias and internal and external parasites.

But today, the concerns are more about flare-ups in diseases than chronic problems. We have a wider variety of vaccines available than ever before. Our knowledge of the strategic use of vaccines, anti-microbials and other medications in both feed and water regimens has changed how we treat and prevent disease challenges.

During the '80s, many production facilities were at a single site. Today, while some single-site systems remain, new investment in facilities is geared to two- or three-site production systems. The goal is to remove the weaned pig from the breeding herd to minimize chronic disease challenges.

Records, Managing Risk

Today, producers talk about risk management and they don't just mean price. They are asking about the sources of risk to the production system, and then making investment and management decisions to minimize risks.

In the '80s, a limited number of producers were using production and financial record systems such as the ISU Swine Enterprise Records, or feed company swine records programs. Today, most producers use some type of production records system.

The National Pork Producers Council implemented Production and Financial Standards to bring uniformity to production and financial records. Advances in data collection and summarization mean producers are now using temperature and daily feed and water disappearance records to monitor the growth process, rather than relying on simple close-out reports to profile “what went wrong” in the growth process.

Two decades ago, up to 33% of the pigs fed to slaughter weight were traded as feeder pigs. Many were commingled from several sources.

Today, while an even larger percentage of pigs move between farrowing, nursery and finishing facilities, they are almost always single-source pigs.

Missouri was the largest source of feeder pigs for Iowa finishers in the early '80s.

Today, we routinely buy and sell newly weaned pigs weighing 10-12 lb. Canada has emerged as a major source of feeder pigs for Midwest finishers. As of Aug. 31, border crossings of pigs weighing less than 110 lb. averaged 73,178 pigs per week in 2002. At this pace, U.S. producers will import 3.81 million feeder pigs from Canada this year, up 670,000 from the 3.14 million imported in 2001.

Meeting Health Demands

In the '80s, to get 500 head of uniform pigs to fill a finishing facility, producers had to combine pigs from as many as 8-10 different sources. While the pigs had similar weights, little was known about their age, genetics and/or previous health status. Feeder pigs were bought and sold on “reputation.”

Today, buyers of pigs often have their veterinarian discuss herd health concerns with the veterinarian for the seller. It is possible to place 1,000, single-sex pigs into a facility from a single farrowing site that are within 3 days of age of each other and the result of specific genetic matings.

In the '80s, producers sold pigs to the packer with the philosophy that the producer knew what type of pig was best to produce.

Today, consumer pressures on the entire production chain, from the retailer to the producer, mean producers are being asked to produce and deliver pigs that fill or meet consumer demands. These demands include food safety, animal welfare, environmental responsibility and so on.

Producers today must respond to and maintain appropriate records to verify a wide range of production practices.

Summary

The 22 years since 1980 have seen many changes in grow-finish production technology. The next 20 years can be predicted to have even more dramatic changes.

Probably the surest change will be the ability to quickly respond to the changing desires of consumers. Pork production systems of the future will have closer linkages to consumers. And successful producers will adopt grow-finish production systems that are responsive to those consumer demands.

22 Years of Progress

Following are highlights of advancements in grow-finish facilities over the course of the past two decades.

Housing

Today, with the advent of wean-to-finish systems, producers are housing pigs on fully slotted floors vs. partially slotted floors popular in the '80s.

Confinement

Today, many producers are housing grow-finish pigs in confinement pens of 100-500 pigs and are recording excellent performance. In some straw-based systems, pens of 1,200 pigs are being used in other parts of the world.

Environment

Now, any facility with curtain openings has an automatic controller to adjust environmental conditions for the pigs as needed.

Diet

Now, 40-50 lb. pigs routinely receive diets containing 1% to 1.2% lysine, with some of the amino acids in the diet coming from synthetic sources. And phytase is used to reduce the amount of phosphorus in the manure.

Marketing

Today, the vast majority is valued on the basis of carcass merit, generally based on a measure of backfat and loin muscle depth.

Production

Today, AIAO flow is the norm in farrowing, nursery and finishing facilities.

Treatment

Today, the concerns are more about flare-ups in diseases than chronic problems.

Records Management

Today, most producers use some type of production records system.

Buying and Selling

Today, we routinely buy and sell newly weaned pigs weighing 10-12 lb. Canada has emerged as a major source of feeder pigs for Midwest finishers.

Herd Health

Today, buyers of pigs often have their veterinarian discuss herd health concerns with the veterinarian for the seller.