When looking for areas to invest in or not invest in your hog business, some are better than others.
Here are five recommendations for you to consider.
1. Don’t cut the wrong corners. When things get tight, a logical first step is to start trimming costs, but be careful when doing this. Things were put in place for a reason, so make sure you are still attending to that issue. Here are some examples regarding health where cutting some minor costs led to some major losses.
A. A “mycoplasma-stable” sow unit discontinues using mycoplasma-vaccinated gilts. Managers didn’t think vaccinations were doing anything. A porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome elimination herd closure interrupted the natural transmission of mycoplasma. The unit then experienced a dramatic mycoplasma infection — lost pregnancies, dead gilts, several months of pigs that experienced mycoplasma in the nursery, and drug costs. Moral of the story: A vaccine protocol costing less than 1 cent in pig cost would have prevented a significant health event.
B. A growing pig producer with a known ileitis-challenged flow decides to cut oral vaccination to half a dose. This saves roughly 45 cents per pig. Over four groups, he experiences two groups with significant ileitis-associated losses (about 3% extra late-finishing mortality on the two groups). This puts the average mortality at 1.5% for all four. This mortality costs about $3.00 per pig. Not a good trade-off. Moral of the story: Vaccines are manufactured to meet the minimum requirements of efficacy. When you cut the dose, you increase your odds of failure.2
Spencer Wayne, DVM
2. Shift to biologics and health upgrades. Aim to prevent instead of treat illnesses. Vaccines are used to prevent illness before it occurs, where antibiotics are generally used to treat existing diseases. Work with your veterinarian to gain a better understanding of what specific health issues and/or diseases are impacting your production. Some disease can truly be eliminated from your herd. The result can be a huge savings on med costs per pig and increased performance. Antibiotic resistance is a concern for all of us. Consider signing up for the Pipestone Antibiotic Resistance Tracker, which will give you and your vet better insight into your comprehensive antibiotic use. Moral of the story: Consider immunity and health upgrades to improve pig health and performance.
3. Individual pig care. Sometimes the whole group needs to be treated, but more often, it is just individuals. An expensive and effective antibiotic given to those that need it is better than giving a less effective drug to the whole group.
Example: Treating the bottom 10% of weaned pigs in a group with a drug that costs 20 cents per pig gives an average treatment cost of 2 cents per pig. Treating the whole group with a broad-spectrum water medication for five days would cost about 15 cents per pig. The pigs that need the medicine the most are the ones that drink the least medicated water, proving a better case for injectable treatment. Also, anytime you add an antibiotic to the gut, you disrupt it by killing both good and bad bacteria. Moral of the story: Obvious savings by focusing efforts. Caretakers that do this well get great results.
4. Gilt management. Gilts cost money to feed and house, and that adds up. You know that. Here are some examples for how to trim your gilt cost.
A. Feed costs 5 cents per pound. A late-developing gilt eats 10 pounds per day. That’s 50 cents per day to feed. If your average gilt age at first service is 251 days and you drop it to 230 days, that equates to roughly 20 cents per pig going out the door. Also, older gilts more likely to enter as fatties are less likely to have a long, productive life. This is additional value for dropping age.
B. Matrix, or its new generic version to synchronize heats, costs roughly $1.45 per gilt per day. A standard 14-day treatment costs $20. If you can identify 33% that would need a shorter treatment (seven-day), you’ll spend $10 per gilt. If you can pull in 33% of your breeds naturally, you’ll spend $0 per gilt. Being crafty and selective will save you $10 per gilt, or roughly $18 per pig going out the door. That’s real money in your hand. Moral of the story: Trim your gilt cost inputs and save money.
5. Use your vet. Speaking for myself, I have to say that I love my relationships with my clients. It is easy to spend time socializing with people you care about. However, good jokes and the rumor mill don’t improve your operation. You’ve already paid the one-way drive time and the standard cost per mile. Put your vet through his or her paces. The veterinarians in our group get a broad exposure to many types of production in lots of different settings, and they have knowledge of ventilation, vaccines, antibiotics, management, biosecurity, facility design, genetics and nutrition. Believe it or not, we appreciate clients who push us.
Here are a few recommendations to take better advantage of your veterinary resource:
A. Have a list of things to cover and keep the visit focused on these.
B. Push your vet deep into his or her resources. Ask: “Teach me this,” “How does this work?” “Send me this material,” “Write this up,” “Call this person,” etc.
C. Set down health goals and work toward them. For example: “I want to eliminate mycoplasma. Can we do this? How can we do this? Is it a good idea? Let’s do it!”
Moral of the story: We should be exhausted when we leave your farm, if you do this right.
Wayne is a veterinarian at Pipestone Veterinary Services in Pipestone. Contact him at [email protected] or 507.825.4211.