Why do we raise pigs?

In the past couple of months I’ve had discussions with several producers in the upper Midwest regarding their swine operation. The producers were very traditional in that they owned a fair amount of crop land growing corn and soybeans in addition to their swine production. They were growing pigs fed diets that were mixed on-farm using mostly corn that they grew each year.

With today’s high corn price I asked them 2 questions:
1) why are you raising pigs when you could sell the corn for more profit?
2) why aren’t you using more ddgs in the diets – many are at only 10-20% ddgs maximum?

It was a really interesting conversation – you could see each producer pause for a long time on question number 1 – why are you raising pigs? The first responses tended to be – they make money and we’ve always raised pigs. Other common answers – I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have pigs; I really like working with pigs. This answer is at the core of the pork industry in the Midwest – people who have a tradition of production and who derive great satisfaction from the daily care of the animals under their care.

Finally – some said pigs paid for the corn ground in previous years and I need the manure for my corn ground. These producers view pork production as a vital component to their overall economic well-being. Corn won’t always be this profitable and when it returns to more historic levels, pork production will be a vital cog in their production equation.

This reminded me of a producer I worked with 20 or more years ago. After walking thru his facilities and noting several production issues, I asked the producer why he had pigs. His reply – it pays for my green equipment!

The responses to the second question regarding ddgs usage were more varied, but tended to center around the idea that I’ve always raised corn to feed pigs and managing that corn for swine diets is what I’m good at. In some instances producers also commented on the issues of fat quality for the packer when higher amounts of ddgs are fed. In our conversations I pointed out that any analysis of feed costs for growing pigs always concludes that inclusion of ddgs is a better bargain than high amounts of corn, even if the corn is farm grown. The corn could be sold and replaced with cheaper ddgs. With ddgs trading at 70-80% of the value of corn, the economic decision is to include ddgs in the diets.

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