Swine Management Strategies For Profitable Times

“Just as it was vital to find ways of reducing costs during an extended period of financial loss, it is now equally important to ensure that producers position themselves to maximize their efficiency when profits return.”

– LEE WHITTINGTON

Bernie Peet is president of Pork Chain Consulting Ltd. of Lacombe, Alberta, and editor of Western Hog Journal. His columns will run every second week in the Manitoba Co-operator.

Now that pork producers are making profits after three years of financial hardship, the VIDO Swine Technical Group says the first objective should be to repair the damage to facilities, routines, and relationships caused by applying “survival strategies” throughout the past three years.

In an article entitled Back in the Black – Maximize the Opportunities, the group suggests that in order to accelerate the profit recovery, producers need to re-examine their protocols.

“Pork producers are resilient people and the past three years have demonstrated their ability to survive by reducing costs, delaying renovation and repair and altering well-established practices in an effort to conserve cash,” says Lee Whittington, chair of the VIDO Swine Technical Group. “Just as it was vital to find ways of reducing costs during an extended period of financial loss, it is now equally important to ensure that producers position themselves to maximize their efficiency when profits return.”

The most obvious area of neglect is facility maintenance, says the VIDO group. It’s likely that only the most essential repairs will have been carried out, leaving a backlog of maintenance work. “Look at the weeds that have grown around the perimeter of the building, the worn-out coveralls, the entranceway that hasn’t been cleaned and disinfected for months,” Whittington says.

WATCH THE FEED

Feed management is now more critical than ever, suggests the VIDO article. “More than minimal wastage is very costly,” it says. “You can’t avoid it totally. If you don’t see any wastage in a pen, then you probably have five per cent wastage. If you can see some wastage then you will probably be wasting 10 per cent.” For each finishing pig growing from 25 to 120 kg, this will result in additional feed costs of $2.80 per pig if feed is $200 per tonne. Typically 10 per cent of feeders are not working correctly, the article says. It suggests checking feeders daily basis and adjusting if necessary, paying special attention to the pens where pigs have been taken out recently, and double checking with a flashlight to see if feed has ended up in the pit.

“Feed particle size is very important,” stresses Whittington. “A good screen and proper hammers are important to get the proper particle size. For 100 microns of difference, the feed conversion will be 1.3 per cent higher, yet variations of 400 microns are common, which costs around $2.76 per pig over the finishing phase.”

Many producers will have reduced the number of replacement females, resulting in a poor parity distribution.

“In order to restore the correct parity profile replacement gilts must be brought into the herd at a minimum of the long-term replacement rate level for the herd,” advises Saskatchewan veterinarian Dr. Shawn Davidson. “Optimum productivity occurs in Parities 3 to 6, with a substantial productivity dip thereafter.”

“Look at average litters per sow lifetime; this is what drives replacement rate,” Davidson says. “If your average sow has five litters, at 2.4 litters per sow per year you will have a 48 per cent replacement rate, and will turn over your entire herd in 25 months.”

Also, he suggests, when calculating the number of gilt replacements required, add an additional number based on the percentage of gilts that drop out prior to first breeding.

REVIEW VACCINATION

Davidson says some producers have reduced vaccine use to save costs. “There may be places where this can be implemented strategically to achieve that goal, but in other situations it may not be the best place to perform such cutbacks.”

Vaccination of gilts and young sows should remain a priority, he suggests. “Reduced vaccine dosage has been a common industry practice with, at times, disastrous outcomes. Now is an excellent time to review vaccination protocols with your herd veterinarian.”

Effective use of labour is dealt with in detail in the article. “Many units have suffered the multiple pressures of having less people than needed, relatively inexperienced staff being put into positions of responsibility that they are not trained for, and new staff who having just arrived in the country may have problems with language, culture and relative isolation,” it notes. It is now appropriate to look at staffing levels and consider hiring additional people. Just as important is to ensure that staff are being effective from a profit point of view. Where do investments in labour result in productivity enhancements that yield the greatest economic benefit?

For example, should you put an extra person in the farrowing barn to reduce farrowing losses, (0.3 pigs per litter at a value of $12 per litter), or should that person be put in the feeder barn adjusting feeders to save $30 a litter? Investment in technical or management training will also improve the effectiveness of staff and be very cost effective, the article concludes.

The full article may be viewed and downloaded from the VIDO website at www.vido.org.

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