4 ways to save $5 per sow

Posted on September 23, 2020 in Swine Performance
Jaron Lewton, Vita Plus swine technical sales managerDave Chamberlin, Vita Plus swine technical sales managerBy Dave Chamberlin and Jaron Lewton

When it comes to sow management, most programs have two goals: to optimize sow productivity and longevity.  However, in pursuit of these two goals, producers often leave costs on the table, which impacts the bottomline and overall profitability.

By implementing the following four sow management strategies into your swine business, you could save up to $5 per sow.

1.  Utilize prefarrow feeding strategies.
Prefarrow sows should be fed three times per day (2 pounds per feeding) to maintain steady energy stores throughout the body and to decrease the farrowing interval.  High-fiber transition diets may decrease constipation and provide additional energy in the form of volatile fatty acids (VFA) to decrease the farrowing interval and number of stillborn piglets, as indicated in Graph 1.

Sow customers who have implemented this feeding strategy have seen an average reduction of $1.89 in weaned pig production costs.

Graph 1. Effect of the time since last feeding on the number of stillborn piglets. (Feyera et. al., 2017)

2.  Manage weaning age for optimum non-productive days.
Lactation length can be tough to manage, but it has huge payoffs in sow production.  Although PRRS status impacts the ability to move sows within farrowing facilities, and farm production and trucking logistics often impact the number of weanings, if managers can increase lactation length to at least 21 days, the advantages of farrowing rate and return to estrus are remarkable.  It has been estimated (Ron Ketchum and Mark Rix, Swine Management Services, LLC) that a single sow non-productive day (NPD) can cost between $1.56 and $2.25 per sow when accounting for feed, space, labor, and management.  Graph 2 demonstrates that, as lactation length increases, both farrowing rate and the percent of sows returning to estrus within six days of weaning increase, resulting in a cost savings of close to $2 per sow.

Graph 2. Impact of lactation length on farrowing rate (Koketsu et al., 1997)

3.  Evaluate body condition score and make routine feed adjustments.
Although it is hard to quantify, poorly conditioned sows are costly because thin and overweight sows struggle during lactation and to return to estrus, and they are often culled, which increases the number of replacement gilts needed.  Sow body condition score (BCS) is the best way to properly manage sow feed allowance.

Many tools are available to help properly manage sow body condition.  Regular feed box adjustments and sow placement within group pens help minimize the impacts of poor BCS.  If just 1% of the sows in a herd are out of BCS tolerance (less than 2 and more than 4), the excess feed costs and loss of piglets (Knauer et al., 2008) costs a farm more than $0.67 per sow.

4.  Manage lactating sow intakes.
Sow intake can also be hard to quantify, but it can be a major driver of profitability and overall sow health.  In particular, with this summer’s heat, working with sow managers to treat each sow as an individual to maximize intakes results in greater weaning weights, shorter wean-to-estrus intervals, and improved farrowing rates.  Figure 1 demonstrates a sow intake decision tree.  On farms where we help manage farrowing production costs and have implemented this decision tree, we typically see close to $0.60 savings per sow in overhead costs.

Figure 1. Sow intake decision tree.

Contact your Vita Plus consultant to learn more about implementing these sow management strategies in your business.

About the authors:  Dave Chamberlin attended Michigan State University and received a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s degree in monogastric nutrition in 2017.  He has experience working on a 5,000-sow farrow-to-finish farm, overseeing all farrowing management, as well as on a 700-sow farrow-to-finish unit as a farrowing manager.  Chamberlin also previously worked in swine nutrition formulating rations, coordinating ingredient orders, overseeing farrowing farm management and production, and performing farm trials related to nutrition, breeding, and management.  Chamberlin joined Vita Plus as a swine technical sales manager in May 2018.

Jaron Lewton was raised on his family’s hobby farm in LaGrange, Indiana, and attended Huntington University to receive his bachelor’s degree in agribusiness.  During this time, he gained experience in animal husbandry as a farm hand in Laos, as well as greater knowledge of the feed industry through an internship with an egg production farm, where he specialized in nutrition and feed manufacturing.  Lewton then joined a management team of a 1,500-sow operation in northern Indiana before attending Michigan State University to receive his master’s degree in swine nutrition.  His thesis focused on utilizing feed additives in nursery pig diets.  Lewton joined Vita Plus as a swine technical sales manager in July 2020.

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Swine Performance