Sow mortality is increasing, with average levels in most countries now in the low double figures. Note, these are average figures meaning many farms are worse. Ten to fifteen years ago we would be expecting to see sow mortalities around 6% to 8%.

There are some obvious costs of sow mortality. The most obvious is loss of sow slaughter value plus the cost of disposal of a dead sow. These costs vary continuously over time but an average of $200 to $250 over time is reasonable. This means the extra 4% to 5% sow mortality has a direct cost of between $10,000 and $12,500 per 1000 sows per year. Assuming 28 piglets sold per sow this is an extra cost of up to $0.44 per pig! This figure just applies to sows that actually die. It excludes sows that are sold with no value. This number increases directly with sow mortality.

Dead sows do not produce piglets!

Looking at average data from farms, about 47% of sow deaths whilst pregnant, about 42% are in lactation, and the remaining 11% in dry sows and gilts. Sows that die in lactation have produced piglets, the 47% that die pregnant will give a direct loss. Let’s assume an average of 12.5 pigs weaned per sow farrowed X 47% = 5.87 pigs per sow less.

For 1000 sows, assuming 47% of sow mortality occurs when sows are pregnant, 5% extra mortality X 47% = 2.35% of sows = 23.5 sows less farrowing X 5.87 weaned pigs X 2.4 farrowing = 331 less weaned piglets per year. Assuming 95% liveability wean to finish and a margin over feed of $70 then we have $22,011 lost margin per year.

Looking at PigChamp average data for USA, in the past 15 years average piglets weaned per sow per year has increased by 1.75 piglets, but in the same time born alive per farrowing has increased 1.99 piglets. Assuming 2.35 litters per sow per year would mean 4.67 extra piglets born alive. A good deal of the gains in prolificacy are being lost. Increasing sow mortality is a big part of this loss of gain.

There is an effect on the staff of higher sow mortality.

This is difficult to assess in dollar terms, but it’s there. Moving dead sows is time-consuming and hard work, dead sows are heavy. More still is the effect on motivation. When staff gets used to such high levels of mortality, it becomes more and more difficult to motivate them to improve the quality of their work – “whatever we do pigs will die”. It is not easy recruiting and maintaining skilled staff. Demotivation of dead sows is one of the reasons.

Sustainable, humane, and responsible farming practices

Lastly, and one factor that is becoming increasingly important is politics. It is very difficult for us to defend our farming practices as being sustainable, humane, and responsible when more than 10% of sows are dying. Add to that an average of 31% stillbirths and mortality from birth to slaughter. That’s nearly 1/3 of all pigs that were alive when the sows start farrowing that we lose.

In parts of the world, in particular Europe, there is already considerable pressure on farmers to reverse these trends, to the point of some countries considering legislation to stop increasing prolificacy or even to reduce it!

Higher mortality is due to increased productivity! This is the story being told by many genetic companies. At Genesus we do not agree with this. For all of the reasons above, sow mortality is a significant cost.

If you take the $12,000 direct cost of sow mortality and $22,000 from lost margin this total $34,000 per 1,000 sows. Assuming 28 pigs sold this is a cost of $1.21 per pig. This is as much more than many larger farms will be paying for their genetics!

Genesus breeding program has maintained robustness whilst increasing born alive per litter. There has never made any economic sense to blindly increase prolificacy and end up with a sow that dies or needs other sows to rear her piglets.

In trial after trial, on commercial farms, Genesus sows have significantly lower mortality than all of our competitors. We regularly see 4% to 5% lower mortality (same farm, same feed, and management).

We all know the old saying, where there is livestock there is deadstock. Some mortality is inevitable and acceptable. Today’s average levels are not acceptable, from a cost and management point of view and maybe more importantly a political point of view. Pig production is under the spotlight. As an industry, we need to be proactive in reducing mortality. Buying Genesus is the quickest and simplest way to start.