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Emerging Patterns in the North American Pig Market

10 May 2012, at 12:00am

There is a widespread trend towards increasing numbers of pigs produced per sow. Ed Barrie, Sow Weaner Pig Specialist explains why and what impacts this may have on the North American pork market in the latest Pork News & Views newsletter from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

Through the period of depressed prices in the hog industry in recent years, a significant trend has emerged. The trend is toward increasing numbers of pigs produced per sow. In itself, this is not a new phenomenon. When people are stressed to generate revenue they tend to look more closely at what they are doing. They start to question if they are doing tasks correctly and they do spend more time and attention to the details of getting things done.

Records are looked at a little more carefully and sows producing fewer young than they should be are often culled. Because cash–flow is tight, often these culled animals are not replaced as rapidly as they would be in more affluent times. The net result of this action is that there is more time available to carry out the routine tasks of caring for the other remaining animals in the herd. The consequences are that often total herd production increases from a reduced number of sows.

This event is not new and has been occurring as long as there have been hog cycles. It is the nature of pork producers to try to do a little more with the same resources and as long as production appears to be close to acceptable levels, the process continues.

What is surprising this time is that, in some instances, the sow herd has decreased up to four per cent but the total pork produced has increased by over six per cent on a year–over–year basis.

There are a number of reasons for this increase. Developments in swine nutrition have addressed past weaknesses and by rearranging nutritional programmes such as rebalancing amino acids and energy levels, we have clearly increased born alive numbers and kept them alive through to market weights.

Similarly, the genetics industry has moved forward. Sow sizes have increased, following increased nutritional knowledge and sows are now able to produce larger litters of robust healthy young animals. There have also been improvements in semen handling, artificial insemination techniques, and more time has been spent in the delivering and management of the newborns, to ensure their survival.

The Danes, in particular, have been leaders in the management of highly prolific sows and genetic programmes, while Canadian nutritional research has contributed to the improved performance of the sow herd. Thirty pigs per sow per year was once considered to be a wishful goal, and is now being repeatedly achieved by large commercial units as well as by smaller individual producers.

Interestingly, the American National Pork Board has established a ‘Sow Lifetime Productivity’ working group. The goal of this group is to increase the number of ‘quality’ pigs a female produces while in the breeding herd. The numbers they are applying are an increase of 30 per cent over the next seven years to the current US breeding herd. The net result would be a 30 per cent increase in pig numbers produced from the current sized national herd.

Since both countries’ producers sell into the North American market, this goal establishes that sow herd management will take a higher priority in the goals of remaining competitive in pork production in Ontario.

May 2012