Random thoughts

This week’s blog won’t be limited to a single theme – instead I want to visit about a variety of topics that I’ve come across in producer contacts this past week.


Let’s begin with the topic of added fat in swine diets. Last summer, many of you dropped fat from your diets when the price of fat went beyond $0.50/lb. This past fall, it became economical to add fat as an energy source again. Now I’m hearing quite an array of prices being paid for fat, either a blended product or choice white grease. It appears that the decision on fat addition is once again variable.


I mention this because summer will upon us fairly soon. Many of the readers of this blog increase their use of fat in swine diets in summer since it helps maintain daily gain in summer heat. As you consider what to do this summer with your grow-fin diets, pay close attention to the cost of this dietary ingredient. Currently it appears to be extremely volatile and making the decision on its use is not a clear cut as it may have been previous years.


Second on my list is feeder adjustment. We’ve come a long ways in terms of consistent feeder adjustment, but I still get into a lot of barns where closer attention to this detail will return big dividends. To improve the chances of consistent feeder adjustment, I suggest that you walk the barn with the pig owner, the production supervisor, your employee, etc. When the person responsible for the daily adjustment and the person owning the pigs agree on a feeder adjustment, take a picture of this feeder. Post this picture in the hog barn. Now there should be no disagreement on feeders since everyone involved has reached an agreement on what is correct.


Recently released Kansas State University data supports earlier data from the Prairie Swine Centre in Canada regarding appropriate grow-fin feeder adjustments. Both suggest that feeder adjustments are correct when approximately 40-50% of the feeder pan is covered with feed. If there is more feed than this in the pan, wastage increases and feed tends to build up and become stale in the feeder corners. Less than this and feed intake may be restricted enough to reduce daily gain. You can access the pictures of Kansas State University recommendations at: http://www.asi.k-state.edu/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=1223


Everyone is asking – when will prices get better? I keep reminding those that ask for my opinion that if I knew the answer, I would be invested in the futures in Chicago – and I’m not. Every indication that I’m hearing is that the numbers of pigs going to slaughter will slow significantly in the coming weeks. What impact this will have on prices depends not only on the numbers coming to market (supply), but on the ability to export product and to convince the American consumer to buy the product (demand). COOL will be fully implemented next week which will also impact markets as packers adjust fully to the new labeling requirements.


COOL and low prices is already impacting pork production in southern Minnesota and northwest Iowa. There are a lot of reports of barns coming open due to the decline in the number of Canadian feeder pigs coming South.


If we assume that 2/3 of the Canadian pigs are weaned pigs and 1/3 are feeder pigs, the average finishing ‘space’ that people think of is occupied 21-22 weeks. Right now, the US is averaging about 50,000 fewer Canadian feeder pigs per week than last year at this time. This translates into just over 1 million fewer pigs in the US finishing inventory (pig spaces).


As I’ve written earlier, to shift slaughter 200,000 head per week, we need to have over 4 million open spaces. I don’t think we’re there yet. We had 60.6 million pigs in the kept for market category in the December 1, 2008 USDA Hogs and Pigs report. Somewhere around 45 million of these pigs were housed in finishing ‘spaces’. This suggests that we need to have 10% of our finishing capacity standing idle to impact slaughter 200,000 head per week. I don’t think we’re there yet, suggesting it will be a while before we have a dramatic increase in profitability.

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