Bruce Livingston's herd performance of 26.5 pigs/sow/year comes from several unique management techniques - tailor-made breeding methods, a single-move policy for newly weaned sows and estrous management in sows and gilts.
Bruce Livingston does not practice the textbook version of pork production. Instead, he uses ingenuity and innovative ideas to streamline production at State Line Swine near Mahaska, KS. The farm is located just north of the Kansas-Nebraska line.
The 31-year-old producer pulls no punches about his ability to get more pigs from his sow herd. He started with six gilts when he was 8 years old and built his sow herd to 150 sows by the time he graduated from high school in 1987.
Livingston took the lessons learned from farrowing outdoors in huts and, over time, began to change his operation. Moving the sows indoors advanced herd productivity and allowed for expansion.
Livingston expanded from a 600-sow, farrow-to-finish operation in 1997 to 3,200-sow, farrow-to-wean operation in 1998. Facilities for 2,000 more sows were added this summer. Growth is focused on a singular target - 26 pigs/sow/year.
"I knew I had the management capabilities to achieve this high level; all I needed to do was get the right people in the right areas and implement my ideas," he explains.
Livingston's breeding and gestation barn management includes a "one-move" policy for sows from farrowing crate to gestation stall and use of hormone shots to reduce non-productive sow days and promote higher ovulation rates. He also designed and made his own farrowing crates.
On the business side, Livingston is an independent producer who uses an early-wean pig contract with Farmland Industries and price protection on his feed purchases.
Livingston's PigCHAMP records from July 31, 1999, to Aug. 1, 2000, show a farrowing rate of 89.7%, an average of 11.4 pigs born alive/litter and 10.8 pigs weaned/litter. Sows produce 2.57 litters/year and average 36.8 non-productive sow days/year. For a comparison to the average and upper 10% of PigCHAMP production records for 1999, see Table 1.
Don Levis, University of Nebraska Extension swine reproductive specialist, is one of Livingston's advisers. Livingston has a talent for managing people and pays attention to detail, he says.
"He's a nitpicker for details. He knows every little detail that happens in that unit. And he thinks about the details," Levis explains.
Livingston uses the following management techniques to achieve his high productivity.
One-Move Policy After weaning, sows move only once from their farrowing crate to an open stall anywhere in six gestation barns.
Once crated, Livingston makes no effort to put sows in groups to make their move back to the farrowing rooms easier on the staff. "I don't care if there are three in one barn, four in another and five in another barn. We do not move sows. I don't care how many sows I have; I will never put them in a row."
There are several reasons for intermingling sows in various stages of pregnancy. One is disease exposure. The other is a noticeable improvement in number of pigs born alive.
"It is important to keep all stages of pregnancy in each gestation barn," Livingston explains. "That keeps the disease exposure up so it keeps the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) titers down."
They tried moving gestating sows into farrowing groups once. The reduction in the number of pigs born alive solidified his one-move policy.
"I don't know if it was from the moving or coincidence, but their live born (average) was a pig- to a pig-and-a-half less than the ones we didn't move," he says.
Livingston also wants employees to pay attention to every sow during boar exposure and heat checking because all stages of pregnancy are in each gestation barn.
Levis agrees that the one-move system and once/day boar exposure require more attention by employees. "They've got to keep their eyes open all the time. Any sow could be cycling anywhere in the barn," Levis says.
Breeding Procedure Estrous checking happens once each day, between 8 and 10:30 a.m. The trip through the barns is the same each day, so the boars become familiar with the routine. The trip is deliberately slower than when heat checking is done twice daily. This slower, more thorough approach also allows the person at the head of the crate to adjust the sow feeders according to each sow's condition.
A card indicating the day of the week a female is detected in estrus is clipped to the stalls. Sows are artificially inseminated (AI) from one to five hours after estrous detection.
Livingston and his employees do not have a boar present during AI. Rather, a "stink stick" is used. The stick is a piece of fabric soaked with boar's preputural fluid and pheromone froth attached to a length of PVC pipe. The stick is placed on top of the gestation stall with the fabric dangling in front of the sow's nose during insemination. The stick remains in place from one to two minutes after the semen bag is empty.
"The stink stick is just as effective as a boar," Livingston says. "The sows are stimulated enough to get the job done correctly, plus we save on labor."
Hormone Shots All sows receive two hormone shots when their litters are weaned. The sows get 2 cc. of PG 600 (Intervet) and 3 cc. of a generic pregnant mare serum gonadotropin (PMSG). Livingston estimates the total cost at $2.60/sow.
If sows do not cycle within 21 days, they receive an additional injection of 5 cc. of PG 600 at a cost of approximately $5/dose. About 10% of the sows get a second hormone shot, Livingston says.
If they do not cycle within 24 days, the sows are culled.
The hormones trim non-productive sow days by two days and allow the females to ovulate more eggs, thus creating larger litter sizes, Livingston says.
As a test, Livingston divided a group of sows that were weaned on the same day. One group received hormone shots, while the other did not. The test was repeated twice.
Farrowing Crate Design Livingston built his own farrowing crate, which he says has reduced crushing deaths to 1.5%. The crate has an extra bar that runs diagonally from the rump bar to about 1 ft. from the front of the crate. The bar is attached with chain links so it flexes when the sow gets up. "It's a regular crate with a bar in it that makes the sow lay down real slow and then roll over," Livingston says.
Pig Contract With 3,200 sows producing, Livingston weans 1,600 pigs/week. The average pig is weaned at 17.6 days and weighs 11.5 lb. The pigs go to producers in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.
Livingston manages his risk with his pig contract and contracts for feed.
"I do risk protection. I sell every pig before they are conceived. I match the length of pig contract to the length of my loans," he says. "I contract for grain and soybean meal or buy puts and calls. That way I can concentrate on raising pigs."
"I saw a need for SEW pigs and took advantage of a good pig contract. I expanded to where my risk management and production levels would allow," he says.