I spent 4 days this week in 2 2500 sow breed-to-wean units ear tagging 5 day old pigs on their birth litters as part of an upcoming research project. I don’t normally spend much time in sow units, other than to help them with ventilation issues. Being in the units and working side by side with the employees made me appreciate even more the effort that goes into the weaned pigs that many of us receive in our nurseries and wean-finish facilities.
In the September USDA Hogs and Pigs report, US producers averaged 9.7 pigs weaned per litter for all litters weaned in June, July and August of this year. To get this weaned average meant the average US producer farrowed almost 11 live pigs per litter. This means our top producers are weaning 10.5+ pigs per litter and farrowing over 12 pigs per litter. We now routinely talk about a goal of 30 pigs weaned per mated female per year, with some hinting at even higher numbers in the not so distant future. Add to this the fact that as we increase weaning age, we are now often producing a weaned pig at 21-22 days of age that averages 14+ pounds.
Think about the attention to detail required in a farrowing unit to attain these types of production numbers. While I knew in a general way what it takes to make these numbers happen, it was a good refresher for me to see how dedicated the staff is in these units in doing all of the little things right.
As we were working in farrowing rooms, if they heard a pig squealing from being laid on by a sow, someone immediately sprang into action to get that condition corrected. If there was a starve-out pig in a litter, someone was looking after the pig and/or moving the pig to a nurse sow where the pig would have a better opportunity for survival.
Because there had been PRRS in the units in the past year, they were very conscious of bio-security. This included dipping of all processing implements between litters to reduce possible blood transfer between pigs via open wounds. To reduce scour spread, processing carts with solid flooring had the litter absorbent material in the cart replaced between rooms. And the list goes on of the little things they were doing right.
Hats off to the many people who spend their day in sow units. I have spent a career as a wean-finish specialist and felt somewhat out of place in the farrowing units. However, I did recognize that because of the efforts of the people at farrowing sites, I have plenty of weaned pigs to place in my facilities.
Of course, there will be those that say we have a lower market price because we have gotten so good at farrowing and weaning pigs. The reality is that because of the genetic potential of our breeding herd and the application of management techniques by the people at the farrowing sites, we will need less females in the breeding herd going into the future.