We have been asked by several people to look into the effect of weaning age on performance of breed-to-wean facilities. Since we get data from over 20 different sow recordkeeping programs, there is some question of the accuracy of what true average weaning age is because record programs handle nurse sows, partial litter weaning and crossfostering, differently. Each farm needs to review how their sow record program calculates weaning age.

The trend in the industry has been to wean older pigs in an effort to get larger pigs, which reduces the cost of early nursery diets, plus pigs start faster when placed in wean-to-finish barns.

Chart 1, from the Swine management Services (SMS) benchmarking database, shows weaning age trends over the last 5+ years. The average weaning age increased from 18.2 days (January 2005) to 19.9 days (March 2009), and has since leveled out at 19.6 days.

Table 1 shows data from 686 farms representing 1,211,000 females, which are producing 20+ pigs weaned/mated female/year. The data is sorted by days of age at weaning: less than 18 days (70 farms), 18 day (126 farms), 19 days (172 farms), 20 days (163 farms), 21 days (72 farms), 22-23 days (57 farms), and 24+ days (26 farms). We have summarized four areas, which are then broken down as follows: Average Top 10%, Top 25%, Top 50%, All Farms, Bottom 50% and Bottom 25%.

When we first looked at Table 1, size of farms broken down by Average Mated Female Inventory showed farms at 24+ days averaged 781 females and, as weaning age dropped, the size of the farms increased with farms at a weaning age of 19 days or less at 2,000+ females. We are not totally sure the reason for this trend. Smaller farms may have adopted the concept of older weaning age because more of them are farrow-to-finish and can capture more of the benefits of weaning an older pig. Another possibility is the larger facilities have not invested in more farrowing crates to increase weaning age.

In order to divide the farms into weaning age groups, we used the average weaning age for the last four quarters of production to separate them. In Charts 2-9, we expanded each weaning age subset to look at the last 12-quarter trend lines and how weaning age changed in the four different weaning age groups and the effect it had on pigs weaned/mated female/year. Here’s what we found:

Chart 2: Weaning age of 24+ days – The trend of 26 farms over the last 12 quarters shows the average age at weaning has increased from 22.5 to 25.4 days of age, an 11.4% increase. Chart 3, representing the same group of farms and timeframe, shows that pigs weaned/mated female/year increased only a 0.50%. This shows that the farms who were already weaning older pigs continued to raise the age, however, they did not see as much increase in number of pigs weaned as other weaning age groups.

Chart 4: Weaning age of 21 days – 72 farms show the trend over the last 12 quarters where average age at weaning has increased by 1.6 days, from 19.8 to 21.4 days, a 7.5% increase. In Chart 5, pigs weaned/mated female/year over the last 12 quarters showed a 7.2% increase during that same time frame. These farms had the second highest increase in weaning age, however, the highest increase in total pigs weaned/ mated female/year of 1.75 pigs.

Chart 6: Weaning age of 19 days – 172 farms show the trend over the last 12 quarters where average age has increased from 19.0 to 19.5 days, which was only a 2.6% increase in weaning age. Chart 7 shows the trend for the last 12 quarters of pigs weaned/mated female/year, which increased by 6.1% over the same timeframe. These farms were able to increase pigs weaned per sow by 1.50 pigs with minimal increase in weaning age.

Chart 8: Weaning age of less than 18 days – 70 farms show the trend over the last 12 quarters where average age has increased from 17.1 to 17.2 days, a mere 0.60% increase. Chart 9 shows the last 12 quarters pigs weaned/mated female/year shows a 1.8% increase over the same time period. These farms have continued to wean pigs at a younger age and with only a modest increase in pigs weaned.

When you look at the 72 farms with an average weaning age of 21 days – the largest improvement in pigs weaned/mated female/year – there is a lot of variation in improvement by individual farms. Chart 10 shows the variation of the 72 farms – 20.5 to 29.0 pigs weaned/mated female/year – an 8.5 pig spread.

It appears that weaning age may have some affect on increasing total pigs weaned /mated female/year, however, there are several other variables that interact. Future columns will take a closer look at some of the other variables. One of the big variables to think about is trained personnel.

Key Performance Indicators
Tables 2 and 3 (below) provide 52-week and 13-week rolling averages for key performance indicators (KPI) of breeding herd performance. These tables reflect the most current quarterly data available and are presented with each column. The KPI’s can be used as general guidelines to measure the productivity of your herd compared to the top 10% and top 25% of farms, the average performance for all farms, and the bottom 25% of farms in the SMS database.

If you have questions or comments about these columns, or if you have a specific performance measurement that you would like to see benchmarked in our database, please address them to: mark.rix@swinems.com or ron.ketchem@swinems.com.

Click to view graphs.

Mark Rix and Ron Ketchem
Swine Management Services, LLC