Right Sized Facilities in a Changing Industry

With the extremely large numbers of slaughter pigs coming to market in the past 3 weeks there has been a lot of commentary written on where these numbers of pigs are coming from. Are producers pulling pigs forward in an attempt to reduce sale weights and feed grain usage or are pig numbers really this large and USDA undercounted pigs in the last 2 pig reports?

Regardless of which of these scenarios you believe, the runs are large and the underlying industry trends will remain. I’m working on my presentation for the 2012 AD Leman Swine Health Conference in St Paul, MN on September 17-18. The topic I’ve been asked to talk about is the impact of heavy market weights on facilities and equipment.

In preparation for this talk I’ve been reviewing US and Canadian trends. In the US, since 1988 we’ve added 1.4 lb to our barrow and gilt dressed slaughter weight per year since 1988. At the same time, both US and Canadian producers have been rapidly improving the performance of the breeding herd, averaging more pigs per litter weaned and more litters per inventoried female per year.

When you combine these statistics we’re keeping an ever larger inventory of growing pigs on our farms. In 2000 we averaged about 8.5 pigs in the kept for market category (think wean-finish) for every breeding animal in the US and Canadian herd. In 2011 we averaged 10.0 pigs in the kept for market category for every breeding animal.

While the linear trend line is strong (R-squared of 0.91), the building needs to house this growing inventory varies quite a bit. When the sow herd is declining in size, space for growing pigs is more abundant. When the sow herd expands, space for growing pigs the following year tends to be short as it takes time to add facilities in North America due to financing, zoning and other considerations.

When we combine the heavier sale weights with the potential for space restrictions we come up with a scenario whereby growing pigs face a limit to their daily gain – that is gain will be less than their nutritional and genetics would suggest due to the limit space restrictions place on daily feed intake and the pigs innate potential for gain. Most production systems in the US average around 7.2 sqft/pig as their stocking density.

When pigs are removed from a pen when the average pen weight is 250 lbs (a common scenario when average sale weights are 270-280 lb), the space requirement for the pig based on best individual pig daily gain is 8.5 sqft/pig. At 7.2 sqft/pig the data suggests a 5% reduction in grow-finish overall daily gain due to the space limitation.

If we continue to stock at 7.2 sqft/pig (often dictated by facility contracts and zoning limitations on new facilities) and now begin sales when the pigs average 275 pounds (likely to become increasingly common in future years), daily gain is predicted to decline by 7.2% versus daily gain if the pigs had been given 9.2 sqft/pig.

The yearly increase in slaughter weight brings with it a myriad of facility challenges with space only being one of them. Facilities are fixed investments but pork production is a changing industry with changing needs. Getting facilities ‘right sized’ is an on-going challenge for producers.

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