In 1988 while driving to a swine records meeting at Swine Graphics (a then start-up record company), Dr Ron Brodersen and I got into a long discussion in my pickup of space utilization in production facilities. At that time we estimated that a good ‘metric’ for space utilization in grow-finish barns was 78 lb of gain per square foot of pen space per year.
Many production systems now internally compute this value and MetaFarms includes it on each group closeout as an indicator of how this capital intensive asset is utilized. There are several problems with using this value however.
Any of the readers of this blog who have ever double stocked weaned-finish facilities know, that computation gets very ‘funny’, especially if the pigs that are moved to other facilities at sort-down are not weighed. In addition, sort-down at 7 weeks post-wean gives a much different number than sort-down at 12 weeks. If you have the opportunity to sell the first cut from a barn to a light weight market, does the removal of these pigs make this number skewed, even though it allows the remaining pigs to grow-faster to heavier final weights? What about sites that are sold as ‘dump’ sales vs sites that pull 3 times for sales?
The other problem for farrow to finish systems is pounds per square foot only looks at grow-finish (or nursery or wean-finish) utilization and doesn’t account for the ultimate space utilization needs that are dictated by the weaned pigs coming from the breed-wean site.
The ultimate space utilization driver in any farrow-finish production system is the farrowing crate. Therefore, shouldn’t we be thinking about space utilization for a farrow-finish production system on a per crate basis? How well do we match up downstream assets with the throttle to the whole system pig flow?
I recognize this ‘metric’ needs some refinement. As one person pointed out to me in a meeting this week where I brought this up – will use of this metric drive us to younger weaning ages again? I know there are probably other issues that I haven’t even thought about in this ‘metric’, but I’m intrigued by wean-finish asset utilization linked back to the real choke point of all pig production flow– the farrowing crate.