Why so many pig barns?

This past week I drove from Mankato, MN to Kearney, NE and back. While much of the US corn and soybean production areas are suffering severe drought stress, the area I drove through is fairing relatively well. Some of the corn was pollinating last week, but a large chunk appears to be on track for pollination this week. With cooler weather this region appears to be hanging on for a reasonably good crop yield.

On the drive to Kearney, I got to thinking about the large number of new production facilities under construction in Iowa and Minnesota. In the latest USDA Hogs and Pigs report, the number of kept for market pigs (think wean-finish inventory) in the US per breeding animal was 10.23. This contrasts with the 6.46 market pigs per breeding inventory animal in the June 1, 1988 report.

A couple of reasons come to mind for the very large increase in this value over the 24 year period. First off, the reproductive productivity of our breeding herd has really moved up. In 1988 for the March-May period US producers averaged 7.81 pigs/litter. In the latest report for March to May, 2012 US producers 10.02 pigs/litter.

Because of this productivity increase, not only in pigs/litter but in litters/female/year, our breeding herd is much smaller. On June 1, 1988 we had 7.53 million pigs in the breeding herd compared to 5.862 million head in the latest report, a 22.2% decline. At the same time, our kept for market inventory went from 48.655 million pigs to 59.967 pigs, a 23.2% increase.

Some readers of this blog will credit the continuing increase in sale weight as one reason we have more pigs in inventory – it takes longer to grow pigs when they are 1.5-2.0 lb/year heavier. However, this may or may not be a factor as pig performance has improved at the same time.

In 1989 Swine Graphics reported that the average wean-finish (nursery plus grow-finish combined) performance of producers in their database was 1.19 lb/day from 13 lb to 235 lb or 187 days. MetaFarms.com reported their users for the 2008-2011 period had a 1.53 lb/d daily gain from 13 to 265 lb or 165 days. This supports the conclusion that the efficiency of our building usage has increased greatly during this period and that the improvements in performance pretty much offset the increase in sale weight.

The influx of Canadian weaned pigs that really took off beginning in the late 90’s is a contributor to the need for more finishing inventory space. In 1992 we imported 226,000 feeder pigs from Canada. This reached a peak in 2008 at 6.77 million pigs and is currently stable around 4.8 million pigs/year.

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