This week we are taking a closer look at some common problems we have seen on hog farms. We have broken them down into four areas – 80% of the issues are related to people and 20% to other factors (nutrition, 10%; facilities, 5%, and genetics, 5%):

80% of the issues and challenges associated with raising pigs centers on the “people factor:”

• January is a good time to calculate your employee turnover rate. Take the number of W-2’s you’ve printed and divide it by the number of full time employees. For example: 12 W-2’s printed divided by 6 full-time employees = 50% employee turnover rate (ETR). It is not uncommon to have an ETR over 50%. If the figure is uncommonly high, it is a good time to evaluate your employee management practices.

• When you finalizing your year-end financial reports, calculate how many dollars you spent on training the farm employees. Divide the total dollars by the number of full-time employees. Most will find this number is less than $500/employee. When you’re looking at a total investment in the millions of dollars, certainly you can justify spending $2,000+ per employee for the most important part of the operation. It’s an expense that usually generates a good return on investment.

• PQA Plus+ and TQA certification for all employees will soon be required by most packers. These are very good training sessions to help all employees understand that they are responsible for the pigs’ well-being and for the quality of pork leaving the farm.

• Continuing education, seminars, trade shows, etc. can help educate your employees. The owner/manager of the farm is responsible for sending employees to educational events.

• Most top-performing farms/systems have written manuals that spell out standard operating procedures (SOPs) in all areas of production. However, too much detail can discourage farm personnel from trying new ideas or suggesting changes. Major changes in procedures should be accompanied by a trial period to evaluate the impact of the change.

• An employee manual is needed for every farm to outline policies, such as vacation time, sick days, bonuses, daily work schedules, who can administer vaccination to animals, etc. This manual should be reviewed in detail with each new hire on the first day of work, who should sign and acknowledge receipt of the handbook and the document placed in the employee’s personal file.

• Employee meetings are very important to help keep farms organized and the lines of communication open. It is important for the employees to know how the farm is performing and what is expected of them. This may be the only time during the week or day that employees can express their opinions and ask questions. It is also important to have regular on-farm training, such as safety meetings or just regular staff meetings to review records or just share ideas for improving production.

• Consistent employee evaluations are important. New employees need regular feedback after the first 90 days and annually after that – unless there are issues or concerns that require attention. 10% Nutrition
• The end of the year is a good time to calculate your daily gestation and lactation feeding rates. Take the total pounds of gestation feed delivered for the year and divide it by the number of gestation days for the year. Depending on location, this number should be between 5-6 lb./day. Similarly, the total pounds of lactation feed delivered for the year should be divided by the number of lactation days for the year. Again, depending on location, this number should be 14 lb./day or more.

• The end of the year is also a good time to evaluate rations, including a laboratory analysis to ensure the feed being delivered meets your specifications. Be sure to test for at least one trace mineral and one vitamin.

• Mycotoxins produced by molds are likely to be a big problem in some areas for the next year. Feed suppliers should test for molds and mycotoxins on a regular basis. Pregnant sows, lactating sows and developing gilts are sensitive to mycotoxins that cause abortions, irregular estrous cycles and reduced feed intake in lactation.

• Contamination of other types, such as pesticides or insecticides, occasionally contaminate feed ingredients and go undetected until production problems, such as increased death loss in farrowing or lowered feed intake in finishers, occur.

• Check feed bins and delivery systems for mold buildup, especially during excessively rainy periods or driving snowstorms. 5% Facilities
• Lactation feeder design is critical to getting sows to consume more feed. All lactating sows should be ad-lib fed, with individual attention paid to each sow, everyday.

• Water is the forgotten ingredient of nutrition. As a rule of thumb, pigs will consume 2-3 times as much water as they do feed each day. Lactating sows will consume 6-10 gal./day, while gestating sows consume 2-4 gallons daily. Good quality water is important.

• Ventilation and air quality are critical to maximum health and performance of pigs and employees.

• Cool cells are needed to reduce heat stress on sows and employees in periods of excess heat. Some of the top performing farms are placing cool cells in their gilt development barns to reduce stress on gilts in the summer to help keep gilts cycling and ensure a consistent flow of replacement gilts.

• Insulation in barn attics should be checks annually. With the extreme weather and increasing propane costs, insulation levels should be at R-19 or higher.

• Check attics for snow. There have been several incidences where snow has blown into the attic causing the ceilings to collapse. 5% Genetics
• There seems to be a trend toward using more F1 females in farms that want to move to the higher level of production.

• Whether to use internal multiplication or purchase replacement gilts is open to debate. Internal multiplication allows for minimal or no entry of new genetics. It requires advanced planning because it takes 12 months to produce gilts that are ready to breed. This approach will actually lower the production of the farm because of the purebreds in the inventory. Whether produced or purchased, good replacement gilt isolation and acclimatization procedures are essential.

• Breeding herd replacement rates vary with genetic lines, sow mortality rates, production-level targets, cull sow marketing programs and the parity structure of the herd.

• Mortality rates are dropping on most farms – a reflection of better gilt development programs.

• Health is often used as an excuse for poor production, but there are farms with health challenges producing over 26 weaned pigs/mated female/year and there are very clean herds that struggle to get over 24 weaned pigs/mated female/year.

• Total pigs born is a key driver for top production. Top farms are recording over 14 total pigs born per female farrowed. 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