Controlling Costs, Improving Herd Health are Keys to Success in Tough Times

US - During the 2015 World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, veterinarians from two leading swine health and production companies shared their recommendations on how producers can best manage their herds for profitability during tough times.
calendar icon 24 June 2015
clock icon 5 minute read

At the media lunch and learn session sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., Daryl Olsen, DVM, with AMVC, and Aaron Lower, DVM, with Carthage Veterinary Services, reviewed current input costs, health issues and production dynamics, and outlined certain goals producers should shoot for to improve profitability.

In his presentation, Dr Lower encouraged producers to focus on three major areas that drive much of the cost of production and, therefore, have the biggest impact on profits or losses in a system: feed costs, weaned pig costs and facility costs.

“On average, these three items account for 87 per cent of the cost of production per head sold in wean-to-finish systems,” Dr Lower said.

“Producers need to focus their attention on these three large cost centers and on several related key controllable areas, such as wean pig flow, weekly mortality and closeout percentages, feed processing, as well as health and disease diagnostics – all of which factor into these cost centers.”

Dr Lower noted with PRRS, for example, studies show that PRRS-negative pigs in wean-to-finish barns net an additional $11 per head compared to PRRS-positive pigs.

“That’s significant when you figure that on a barn full of pigs,” he said.

“Improving herd health by proactively preventing disease and improving biosecurity not only reduces mortality, but directly impacts pig performance, improves feed efficiency and daily gains and reduces weaned pig and facility costs by maximizing pig flow in the barns,” he explained.

Dr Lower also noted that while eliminating vaccinations or implementing partial dosing may seem like a viable cost saving option, it could be a very costly decision in the end.

“As a herd health expense, vaccines cost very little as far as overall production costs (1.7 per cent average), reduce pig variation and provide significant return, especially if there are disease issues present,” he said.

However, maximizing throughput of the system provides a much greater potential for return on investment.

“The best way to do that is to reduce barn downtime and fill completely with healthy, productive pigs that gain weight fast and efficiently and get to market quickly.”

AMVC’s Dr Daryl Olsen highlighted the cyclical, commodity nature of today’s pork industry and challenged US producers to be the reliable, low-cost supplier to global pork buyers in order to be profitable.

“The low-cost producer has the advantage when it comes to weathering tougher economic times that are influenced by various market factors,” he said.

“Knowing their cost of production and building a solid herd health program puts producers in the best position to make money, no matter what the markets are.”

Echoing Dr Lower’s comments, Dr Olsen said that ultimately, weaned pig costs, facility costs and feed costs are the major factors that determine cost per pig or cost of production, depending on how producers do the math.

“If producers start with a healthy, 15-pound genetically superior pig entering the wean-to-finish facility, make decisions that enhance finishing pig performance, and stabilize herd health, they are in the best situation to make money,” Dr Olsen explained.

A healthy pig coverts feed more efficiently and gets to market faster than a sick pig, Dr Olsen said.

“Producers should never sacrifice pig performance for small up-front savings by cutting back on vaccines and appropriate health-related costs.”

In addition, Dr Olsen outlined six production goals producers should strive towards in order to enhance their chances for profitability:

  1. Weaned pig cost of $30-$32 per pig
  2. Facility cost of $17.50 per pig
  3. Wean-to-finish feed cost of $80 per pig
  4. Achieve 95 percent full market value of pigs
  5. Average daily gain of 1.85 pounds
  6. Wean-to-finish feed conversion ratio of 2.45

“In the swine farms we work with, these are reasonable, attainable production metrics and put producers in the best position to be a low-cost provider,” he said.

“For better or for worse, managing costs as best they can will help all producers weather the tough times and make it to better days in the future.”

Dr Olsen and Dr Lower’s presentations on managing swine production during tough economic times can be found on SwineCast.

For information on Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., and the swine health products, diagnostic services and technical service it provides pork producers and veterinarians, visit

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