What about slaughter weights in 2015?

We’re 2 weeks into 2015 and slaughter weights are still much heavier than last year. So far this year barrow and gilt carcass weights are running about 2-3 lb heavier that the same day last year. Iowa-SMN live weights year to year also reflect much heavier pigs to date this year. While I haven’t compiled the data as yet, it is a safe bet that slaughter weights in 2014 versus 2013 had the largest 1 year increase since the 1970’s.

The obvious question going forward – what will happen to slaughter weights? We’re in uncharted territory in trying to figure this one out. The very large increase in slaughter weights last spring came because of a severe shortage of pigs due to the PEDv situation and high prices as a result of not only the shortage of pigs but also the very high cattle market. At the same time, feed cost of gain was lowering with anticipation of a good growing year, a rebound from the 2012 drought and plentiful feed grain supplies.

The more historic pattern is slaughter weights slowly decline in January and February with a slight uptick in March and April. The first week in January is often the highest average slaughter weight of the year until we get the fall run-up. Most likely this is because of the backup in sales due to holidays and some producers deferring sales for tax purposes resulting in heavier pigs the first week(s) of January.

Last year the US industry followed this trend until mid-March. At that time, slaughter weights exploded to record high weights, often times having carcass weights more than 5 lbs heavier than 2013. IA-
SMn liveweights were 1.45% heavier on week 17 (middle of April) vs week 1 of 2014 versus the historic 0.5% lighter. The summer decline in slaughter weights was not as sharp as normal either so year-on-year comparisons will be confusing.

Having said all that, I expect slaughter weights (currently 215-217 lb carcass, 285 or so IA-SMN live) this year to follow the normal trend of relatively stable (99.2-99.6% of week 1 weights) until late May when summer heat begins to impact performance and facilities are filled to bursting with pigs as a result of less PEDv losses this winter.

With an abundance of pigs projected for this year and concerns of excess pigs in 2016 as a result of industry expansion and less PEDv losses, many are expecting packers to modify their payment grids. Some who routinely work with packer buyers are telling me that the possibility exists that some packers may reduce the top weights of their buying grids. They are starting to see an excess of heavy weight products (hams and loins) slowly backing up in their freezers and coolers. These products often don’t qualify for branded labeling due to size constraints on the branded products so they end up being sold to other processors who may or may not be able to fully capture the value from the heavier product. If packers can source all of the pigs they need with tighter live/carcass weight specifications this helps with this end product problem.

On the other hand, if we continue to see sideways to downward price pressure on feed grains, producers will want to feed pigs to heavier weights to take advantage of this reduced cost of gain. Many producers are sizing new production facility equipment with the expectation of increasing slaughter weights. Gating is now routinely 35-36” tall and feeders are being specified with a minimum of a 14” wide feeder hole, with many opting for 15” or even 16” wide holes. Alley ways are now 34-36” in many facilities so 2 pigs don’t get stuck in the aisle which can happen in 32” aisles.

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