Full farrowing crates key to producer’s success

Forget pigs per sow philosophy | Focusing on numbers leads to poor barn management and reduced meat quality, says expert

John Carr says the holy grail of pig production often contains poison wine.

“Pigs per sow per year actually drives down profit,” the international hog production and profitability expert told the Manitoba Swine Seminar.

“The only thing that is truthful on a farm is the money the slaughterhouse pays you.”

Carr said the industry’s obsession of achieving 30 pigs weaned per year per sow hurts efficiency and profitability because it is a false measure open to manipulation.

He said hog barn managers, keen to win their annual bonuses, can inflate the production numbers to achieve the sought-for “30.”

“If I’ve got to get 30 pigs per sow per year to get my bonus, sadly the easiest way to get it is to have 40 sows without tags, and then don’t tell the boss when a sow aborts, dies or is not as productive as you would like, take that tag out and put it into an un-tagged sow,” said Carr.

Gilt numbers can also be manipulated to more easily reach the 30 target, but if that includes reducing the gilts herd, that will hurt long-term productivity.

Carr said focusing on producing 30 piglets distracts the farmer from thinking about profitability and will lead to poor use of farrowing spaces, feeder barn room and pork quality.

A farm’s success should be based on how much money the packer pays for the pigs week after week, he added, and that is based on the number of kilograms he pays for. Whatever maximizes the weight of a paid-for pig is what leads to profitability.

Underused farrowing crates and overfilled feeding pens will also reduce profitability and need to be managed.

Carr said the main productive concern should be keeping the farrowing crates filled and reproductive success high, which means having excess feeding room at some points of the year.

“If I want to finish 100 pigs (per week) at 120 kilos, I’m going to have to have the space to do that at the most extreme point of the summer, which then means in the wintertime we should have empty (feeding) buildings,” said Carr.

Farmers can either maximize their use of farrowing crates or feeding capacity, but not both. Because farrowing is the basis of the rest of the productive system, that’s what should be made a priority.