Performance variation points to potential improvements

By Greg Bilbrey

Editor’s note: Greg Bilbrey is an account manager with Pig Improvement Company (PIC). He presented during the ‘Management & Production’ breakout session at the 2022 Banff Pork Seminar. For more information, contact Ann Marie Ames at

By using data to make informed decisions, producers could reveal performance efficiencies that lead to cost savings.

Do you feel like you lack the time or resources for collecting and analyzing sow or pig performance data? You might have more resources than you realize.

When done correctly, comparing production data to benchmarks can pay for itself and improve your farm’s profitability. Using data, you can identify declines in pig performance and work back to identify the cause. Only then can you take steps to find a possible solution, whether it be changes in nutrition, management or genetics.

Even if you do not want to compare your herd’s data to other operations, you could find excellent opportunities for improvement by comparing your own current performance data to metrics from months or years prior. Doing so can help identify ways to generate better results in areas where your pigs are under-performing, which benefits profitability overall.

Analyzing data efficiently

Table 1.1: Closeout data from a sample grow-to-finish operation, ranked by percentage using the previous year’s closeout data. Separating groups of pigs by performance allows for more clear identification of performance challenges and opportunity costs than using averages.
Table 1.2: Closeout data ranked by percentage using the previous year’s closeout data. Using the previous year’s data as a benchmark, you can rectify performance issues.

One way to focus your efforts when comparing sets of performance data is to divide the set of closeout data into groups based on performance. Looking at narrower metrics can be more efficient than looking at averages. ‘Opportunity cost,’ in this case, refers to the financial difference between using narrower metrics versus averages.

For example, in a sample group of PIC wean-to-finish pigs, performance metrics led to an average USD $8.78 (CAD $11.17) opportunity cost per head in closeout data from approximately 122,000 pigs (Table 1.1). However, when the pigs were ranked in groups identified by the previous year’s performance data (Table 1.2), the opportunity cost is even more compelling.

Thirty percent of 2021 closeouts performed equal to the upper half of the previous year’s closeouts. The 2021 group had 1.76 pounds (lbs.) (0.798 kilograms (kg)) of average daily gain, a 2.32 feed conversion rate and 5.1 per cent mortality. Using standardized economics, PIC calculated a USD $1.39 (CAD $1.77) opportunity cost per head.

Seventy percent of 2021 closeouts performed equal to the lower half of the previous year’s closeouts. The 2021 group had 1.59 lbs. (0.721 kg) of average daily gain, a 2.40 feed conversion rate and 11 per cent mortality, resulting in a USD $12.58 (CAD $16.00) opportunity cost per head.

If the producer could move a quarter of the group from the lower half to the upper half, this could result in a positive shift of USD $225,000 (CAD $285,000) for that sample herd.

Investigating the causes of under-performance

Table 2

The data shown in Table 2 was collected from PIC customers, representing about one million sows in 46 systems, between April and June 2021. The first column is data collected by PIC. The four additional columns are data collected by other national benchmarking systems. One commonality between systems is that producers who achieve more than 30 weaned pigs per sow per year kept their pre-wean mortality below 10 per cent. By focusing on pre-weaning survivability, producers could efficiently improve their litters per sow per year and pigs per litter – together known as ‘PSY.’

To pinpoint specific areas where potential improvements can be made in your operation, treat the process like an investigation or forensic analysis, working back from the performance data to find out what the numbers represent.

What factors are limiting performance? From one year to the next, changes in the market, health challenges and labor availability can impact pig performance. Physical factors such as feeder space, diet, water availability or space allowance can also drag down performance metrics. Consider which factor you think you can change and start there.

If you are convinced it is time to start or enhance benchmarking sow or pig performance, you can choose from a variety of commercial benchmarking systems. When evaluating them, consider the methods each uses to collect and analyze metrics. Variation between systems is common, and it is important to ensure you are comparing apples to apples.

When collecting data, begin with some historical information, if possible. If you can compile data from the previous three months or one year, you can quickly populate graphs and see trends. However, if you don’t have historical data, you can start at any point you choose.

Taking advantage of opportunities

Hog industry benchmarking programs continue to show wide variation in sow and grow-to-finish production. The variation indicates significant opportunities for increasing profitability. Benchmarking production can be an effective way to identify where or how you could keep costs down and improve the efficiency and profitability of your operation.