Pigs nursing

Pigs saved per litter has been increasing for pork producers, and this year it spiked up to 11. Pork industry experts say it is a reflection of the industry’s long push for improving efficiency.

“We have seen improvements in total born and total born live, so the opportunity to wean more pigs is there,” said Jason Ross, director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center and Extension swine specialist at Iowa State University.

Ray Massey, ag economist for the University of Missouri, says this spring’s USDA report was a reflection of a long-term trend.

“It is definitely a trend,” he says. “We are seeing increasing pigs per litter. They came out with 11 pigs per litter farrowed. That has been going up for years.”

Massey says there are several reasons for the pork industry’s increasing efficiency, including better facilities and better health for the pigs, as well as genetic advances.

“We feed them better, we take care of them better,” he says. “The genetics are improving. The industry is working toward increasing pigs per litter.”

Ross says in addition to improving genetic selection and increasing piglets born, the producers have continued to improve the care provided to the pigs.

“The human side of that as well, there’s been a lot of investment over the last few years about improving day one pig care,” he says.

Livestock buildings have also allowed for advancements in the industry, with the buildings seeing improved engineering and design.

“There are always changes in how we manage livestock,” Ross says. “Obviously there’s been dramatic improvements in the technology in these buildings.”

Increases in total litters per sow and litters per sow per year have also contributed to the overall efficiency.

Historically, producers had spring and fall litters from their sows, but Ross says now the average can be greater than 2.3 litters per sow per year on some farms.

Massey says incremental improvements in pigs saved per litter can make a big difference, given the size on many operations.

“10.63 per litter to 11, if all you had was one sow, a third of a pig is not going to make or break things,” he says. “But if you have a thousand sows, that’s (a big difference).”

This progress is good on a lot of fronts, Massey says.

“It’s good for the individual, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for everybody,” he says.

Massey says the small points of progress can add up, especially with the competition in the pork industry and producers facing challenges from trade issues, feed costs and the threat of foreign animal diseases like African swine fever.

“The seller that gets an extra tenth of a pig over the average,” Massey says, “he’s the one that makes money.”

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Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.