As we start our third year of writing articles for the Weekly Preview, we thought it would be interesting to look at the production trends over the last four years. During that time frame, the number of farms in the Swine Management Services Farm Benchmarking database has grown from 344 to 754 and the number of breeding females has increased from 761,000 to 1,340,000. The farms, located in the United States and Canada, range in size from 200 to 8,000 breeding females. We are grateful to all the farms and companies that participate in the SMS Benchmarking and we look forward to further growth of our database.

At the outset, we wanted to see if the USDA’s 2% annual improvement of baby pigs produced was similar to the farms in our database. In fact, our data reflects the 2% improvement per year with a 7.9% improvement over four years in pigs weaned/mated female/year (PW/MF/Y) for all farms. Further, we separated the farms into the Top 10% (Group A), the Top 11-25% (Group B), the Top 26-50% (Group C) and the Bottom 50% (Group D).

Chart 1 shows Group A has improved PW/MF/Y by 9.9%, Group B by 7.9%, Group C by 8.2% and Group D by 7.2%. By the numbers, Group A improved from 26.34 to 28.95 PW/MF/Y, while Group D improved from 20.99 to 22.51 PW/MF/Y. Therefore, the top 10% of farms improved by 1.09 more PW/MF/Y than the bottom 50% during the four-year period. Using the SMS financial database, this difference equates to approximately a $2.00 improvement in breakeven for Group A compared to Group D.

In Chart 2, total born/female farrowed, Group A has improved by 10.1% to 14.33 pigs in 2011. All farms improved by 8.4%, moving up to 13.31 total born/female farrowed. Group D recorded 8.4% improvement during the four years, increasing from 12.01 to 12.81 total pigs born/female farrowed. Bottom line, Group A is starting with 1.52 more total pigs born than Group D in the farrowing house.

When we looked at pigs weaned/female farrowed in Chart 3, we see the All-Farms average has increased from weaning 9.83 to 10.41 pigs, a 5.9% improvement. Group D improved by only 4.6% going from 9.50 to 9.93 pigs weaned/female farrowed. Group A weaned 11.57 pigs/female farrowed, an improvement of 8.7%.

In Chart 4, piglet survival rate (100% - stillborn and preweaning mortality %) dropped by 1% over the four-year period. All farms saved 79.6% of pigs. Group A saved 83.1% of pigs born four years ago, but dropped to 82.3% this past year. The biggest drop in piglet survival occurred in Group B, which dropped from 83% to 80.7%. As the number of total pigs born has improved by an average of 1.03 pigs over the last four years, the ability of the farm personnel to save those extra pigs has not followed suit.

Looking closer, we broke the piglet survival rates into its two components – stillborns and preweaning mortality – shown in Charts 5 and 6. Chart 5 shows preweaning mortality for all farms increased from 12.5 to 13.2%, a 5.3% change. Group A farms recorded a change of 14.1%, increasing from 9.9 to 11.3%; Group B increased from 11.2 to 12.3%, Group C from 12.4 to 13%, while Group D survival rates increased from 13.5 to 14%. As total born has increased, we know that birth weights have gone down. Consequently, more pigs do not get the colostrum needed and more pigs get chilled. The farms that work to lower preweaning mortality are reducing chilling of pigs by using drying agents, more heat lamps, with some farms towel drying pigs at birth. These farms also make sure all pigs get colostrum by split suckling the pigs the first 24 hours of life.

When we look at Chart 6, we see a stillborn rate of 7.2% for all farms, essentially no change as total born has increased. In Group B, stillborn rate increased from 6.4 to 7.0% – an increase of 9.5% in four years. Group A is the only group that has lowered stillborn rates, improving from 6.9% to 6.4% – a 7.3% drop. The chart shows a nice drop in stillborns in 2011 for Group A as some farms extended farrowing attendant hours and made other farrowing management changes. Several farms have added late afternoon/evening shifts; several have moved to 24/7 farrowing attendants. We’ve also noticed a trend to less inducing, allowing sows to farrow naturally.

Chart 7 shows farrowing rate over the last four years has moved from 82.3 to 85.1% for all farms in the database, an improvement of 3.5%. The Group A farms improved from 87.3 to 90.9%, while Group B showed no improvement during the four-year period. For perspective, a 4% improvement in farrowing rate increases PW/MF/Y by 1.35 pigs.

Finally, in Chart 8, we analyzed wean-to-first service interval. The lines in this chart are mostly flat with all farms starting at 6.85 days and ending at 6.91 days four years later. In Group D farms, wean-to-first service increased from 7.22 to 7.41 days. Group A farms recorded the lowest days to first service at 5.98.

As weaning age has increased during the four years, pigs weaned/litter have improved up to 0.93 pigs/litter. The industry has finally figured out that lactating sows need to eat more if they are to cycle back quickly after weaning, while improving farrowing rate and total born in the next farrowing. More farms have added automated feeding systems or just started more aggressively feeding to ensure sows can eat as much as they want, when they want.

Again, as the charts show, the swine industry in North America is improving at a rate of 2% per year, with the Group A registering 2.5% improvement. The top farms are capturing more of the genetic potential by adopting new technologies and management practices. If you are below the industry averages, it’s time to make some changes in the way sows are managed in gestation, farrowing and lactation.

Key Performance Indicators
Tables 1 and 2 (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