As the demand for heavier finishing pigs grows, producers have the opportunity to improve on-farm efficiencies for higher profit potential. Industry managers and nutritionists believe changes to your late-finishing management and nutrition protocols can help determine the best way to add pounds in a way that support your bottom line potential rather than weighing it down.
Market hog weights have been increasing between 1.5 and 2 pounds per year for about 20 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the late 1990’s, weights averaged between 260 and 270 lbs. A typical weight in today’s market is 285 lbs, and many producers are finishing pigs at 300 lbs.
“The demand for 300-pound finishers is mainly cost-driven,” says Dan McManus, DVM, young animal swine specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition. “It costs processors the same to harvest a 270-pound pig as it does to harvest a 300-pound pig.”
While the primary benefit is to packer-processors, McManus says the trend can benefit producers too.
“The more pounds we can put out the door, the better chance we have of lowering the breakeven cost for production,” McManus says.
Late finishing is often considered a challenging phase in production, second only to weaning, he explains. Most barns are not built with 300-lb. pigs in mind, and taking pigs to heavier weights puts pressure on the square-foot requirements needed to maximize growth.
This physical incompatibility can lead to poor feed efficiency, increased sensitivity to heat stress and increased disease risk. Thoughtful management in the following areas may help prevent profit losses related to taking pigs from 285 lbs. to 300 lbs.
A Tight Squeeze
Square footage requirements for a 300-pound pig are a square foot greater than for a 270-pound pig: (8.5 sq. ft. compared to 7.5 sq. ft.). Feed efficiency may deteriorate when stocking density gets above 36 lbs. per square foot, McManus says.
Being in the finishing barn longer could also increase the risk of illness or mortality.
“Added pressure from stocking density could crack open an outbreak of disease,” McManus says. “When pigs are feeling stress, they are less capable of fighting off diseases. Something that wouldn’t bother them when the barn is less crowded could be more than they can handle when space is tight.”
He suggests taking the first cut from the barn at 270 lbs., to give lighter-weight pigs more space. Another option is to stock barns at 8.5 square feet. While this reduces the total number of pigs you can finish, you may make up the difference with heavier, healthier pigs.
Fencing and Feeder Challenges
Gates and alleys can be less than ideal for today’s 300-pounders, notes McManus, and feeder space may need to be adjusted, too.
“A 32-in. gate has been standard for finishing barns for more than a decade, but 300-lb. pigs can be 34 or 36 inches tall, making pen jumping an issue in many barns,” McManus says. “Also, barns built for 270-pound finishers are likely to have 10- to 12-inch feeder holes. A 300-pound finishing pig is likely to have a shoulder width of about 14 inches.
“When you’re looking to replace worn equipment or to build new, consider whether you want to be finishing 300-pound pigs,” he continues. “You might need more feeder space to keep pigs comfortable or taller gates to keep them in pens.”
Since 75% of total feed used in a farrow-finish operation is consumed in the grower-finisher phase, nutritional accuracy in this phase has a substantial economic impact, say researchers at the University of Minnesota. They note that due to the quantity of feed consumed, the impact of amino acids on lean growth, the cost of adding amino acid sources to the diet and increased demand for leaner pork, emphasis is being placed on more accurately defining amino acid requirements for grower-finisher pigs based on genotype, sex and stage of growth. However, ensuring an adequate quantity of energy intake is equally critical to optimize lean growth rate and efficiency.
“Those pigs are eating as much as 7 or 8 pounds per day toward the end of the market period. In some cases, it’s a pound a day more per pig,” McManus says. “In a 2,400-head barn, that can add up to an additional ton per day. It can be hard to change how often you’re ordering feed or checking feeders, but change will be necessary to keep those bigger pigs performing.”
Talk with your nutritionist about ingredients or products to support feed conversion and gut health in the final finishing stages, such as medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). MCFAs support the gut because they have antimicrobial properties that can reduce pathogen populations and help beneficial bacteria to thrive. They also function as an energy source for intestinal maintenance, McManus explains.
Don’t Forget About Water
Remember that every pound of intake requires about three-tenths of a gallon increase in water consumption, he adds, suggesting you test watering systems to ensure they can handle an increase of 10% to 15% water intake without losing pressure.
Finishing 300-lb. pigs is a growing reality in the pork industry. Innovations in genetics have allowed for a later-maturing pig that can add lean growth for a longer period of time, McManus says.
“Pigs that grow fast, mature later and are leaner have the potential to make money when finished at 300 pounds,” he says.
To maximize genetics and return on investment potential, consider the subtle but important differences between 300-lb. finishing pigs and their lighter counterparts. Changes in stocking density, equipment size, feed flow and nutritional solutions can help heavier pigs stay comfortable and help you remain competitive.
Check with your feed supplier on management and nutrition strategies for more ideas on how to maximize performance in grow-finish barns.