Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Banff 2021 – Editorial

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Message from the editor

The Banff 2021 edition of the Canadian Hog Journal is here!

This year’s Banff Pork Seminar adopted the theme, “Resiliency in a New World.” In this edition, you will notice that theme woven into the various pieces of coverage and commentary on the presentations delivered during seminar, including topics on economics, disease management, mental health, awards, research and more.

The first-ever Banff Pork Seminar took place in 1972, following an earlier prototypical event held at Olds College, a renowned agricultural institution located about 100 kilometres north of Calgary. Since then, the event has taken place at a handful of venues in the Banff area. From the beginning, the seminar was jointly organized by the University of Alberta, Alberta Pork and the Government of Alberta. The partnership remains unbroken to this day. Prior to COVID, the seminar’s advisory committee had planned to mark the 50th anniversary this year with special in-person festivities. Sadly, we will have to wait for that celebration, but hopefully not too long.

The cover of this edition of the Canadian Hog Journal features Banff’s bridge over the Bow River, constructed in 1923. Adorned with First Nations reliefs and located in the historical lands of the Stoney-Nakoda people, the bridge connects us through time, distance and relationships. The same bridge today connects the seminar’s usual location – the Banff Springs Hotel – with the main townsite to the north.

Over the years, our industry, country and the entire world have changed in so many dramatic ways. COVID-19’s impact and the Banff Pork Seminar’s virtual format this year are a contemporary reminder of how the passage of time can impact choices and alter perspectives. The Canadian pork industry has no shortage of issues that still require mending, but if we can continue establishing honest connections, rather than making excuses for dysfunction, our future looks bright, despite any existing grievances.

The image included in this ‘Message from the editor’ was captured at the 2019 Banff Pork Seminar – my first since entering this industry in June 2018. From left to right, the photo includes Michael Young (former Vice President, Canada Pork), me, Marvin Salomons (farm labour consultant, Salomons Group Solutions) and Ron Gietz (former extension economist, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry) – all gentlemen whose depth of knowledge and experience eclipses mine, but certainly positive role models and reminders of the long-term commitments that so many in this industry have made. It is invaluable encounters like these that we lose with a virtual conference, which is unfortunate, but as this year’s seminar theme confirms, resiliency has long been a hallmark of agriculture. We will return.

What are some of your favourite memories from the Banff Pork Seminar? I would love to read those stories and share them in the next ‘Letters to the editor’ section. Reach out to me by emailing andrew.heck@albertapork.com.

Winter 2021 – Editorial

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Message from the editor

By Andrew Heck

The Winter 2021 edition of the Canadian Hog Journal is here!

Last year, with the latest Winter edition hot off the press, I was headed to the Banff Pork Seminar, eager to share the magazine with guests. This year, I will have to settle for sharing the PDF virtually and changing my laptop computer background to an alpine scene. Not quite the same, but it will have to do. And I can still have my pint of beer at home while listening to Irish jig music, right?

The issue of delayed Canadian Pork Excellence (CPE) program implementation persists, and this edition features the third article on the subject in as many years. Consider that a ‘hat trick,’ if you will, as we wait on the next NHL season to start.

Feeding human food scraps to pigs is an age-old practice for some small-scale producers, but is it an effective or safe solution to eliminating food waste? While pig production volume heavily favours the commercial industry, it takes only one disease slip-up to potentially shake the entire sector to its core and jeopardize consumer confidence, which disproportionately affects commercial producers.

Manitoba Pork’s long-time general manager, Andrew Dickson, is retiring. Likewise, long-time communications coordinator, Sandy Ellis, has also left the organization. Her replacement, Joey Dearborn, has written a thoughtful career-in-review piece about Dickson, included here.

As with visiting Banff, I was looking forward to travelling to Quebec City again this year to attend the Porc Show, but that too will have to wait. While the conference was unavailable in-person, the organizers did a nice job of hosting the event over Zoom, as you will see from the coverage.

This edition also includes many interesting news pieces, along with expert commentary on the growth of grocery e-commerce, in addition to a look at the last decade of Swine Innovation Porc (SIP), as well as research on water consumption under stress and the benefits of feeding trace performance minerals, along with a callout for producers to support an environmental footprint study.

Heading into 2021, the past year of mostly negative developments in the Canadian pork industry should, hopefully, help us see the potential positives going forward. I remain grateful to continue advocating for this sector, as I anticipate the birth of my second child — another daughter. The older one is not quite three-years-old, but she already has her mother’s smarts and good looks, along with her father’s way with words and habit of asking too many questions – a dangerous but exciting combination.

Whatever this year holds for us all, you may like to buckle up, grit your teeth and hold on! I will be doing likewise. Our saving grace? If industry players and publications continue promoting the right kind of content to influence decisions that benefit our sector, our odds of collective success might be better than we even know. Let me know what you think by emailing andrew.heck@albertapork.com. I want to share your views in the next ‘Letters to the editor’ section. Diverse perspectives equal higher-quality, thought-provoking conversations, which is what we should all being aiming for.

Letters to the editor

In reply to ‘Price negotiating power balance hurts producers’ (Fall 2020)

“During Alberta Pork’s recent annual general meeting (AGM), I put forth a resolution requesting producer support for the Alberta Pork board of directors to explore new hog marketing options, including the potential for a system like single desk selling, using Quebec’s marketing arrangement as a possible example. Producers voted to approve the resolution.

“The whole idea is to get more negotiating power, and I believe that is a necessary step to take. If we leave it up to producers to pursue voluntarily, it is much less likely to work. If we look at formalizing such a system, it may be more binding and successful.

“The reason I think Alberta Pork should be the producers’ marketing representative under this kind of system is practical: for the concept to work, legislation will need to be modified, which requires partners that are recognized by government. I have confidence that the Alberta Pork board of directors includes the right people and motives to represent producers in this regard.

“It is not every day we have an opportunity to inspire real change within our industry. I really hope all producers take this seriously and truly hold themselves accountable and help push things in the right direction.” Nathan Stahl, Stettler, Alberta

In reply to the cover of the Canadian Hog Journal (Fall 2020)

The cover image used on the Fall 2020 edition of the Canadian Hog Journal has received some positive attention from readers, including the Canadian Pork Council (CPC), which has framed and hanged the cover at the organization’s office in Ottawa.

The image itself was staged and captured in the kitchen of editor Andrew Heck, featuring a homemade Canadian pork and beef tourtière, along with a CPC-branded ceramic mug and other fall-themed decorations.

The cover and total magazine layout are the responsibility of Michael Poulin, a graphic designer with Capital Colour of Edmonton, the company that prints and distributes the magazine.

Fall 2020 – Editorial

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Message from the editor

The Fall 2020 edition of the Canadian Hog Journal is here! I was first introduced as the incoming editor of the Journal in the Fall 2019 edition, so this makes it my official first anniversary.

While every new edition is an exciting accomplishment for me personally and professionally, more importantly, it is an opportunity to advocate for this industry that supports tens of thousands of jobs, millions of Canadians and billions of global consumers.

We should all take time to appreciate the good things in our lives, but I feel compelled to digress a bit. The 2020 calendar year certainly has felt like an eternity for all the wrong reasons, no thanks to where we find ourselves as a sector, and producers are still facing a long-term negative pricing situation. Being so close to this issue myself, from an investigative point-of-view, it can be mentally draining. Still, that feeling pales in comparison to the ongoing stress producers must manage on a daily basis.

It is my sincere hope that all industry representatives, including magazine editors, are doing the right things to help you navigate this storm with as little hardship as possible. That is our goal and duty. Our collective success or failure has wide-reaching implications for many people.

In the Summer 2020 edition, we continued to provide coverage of shared value concerns across the entire Canadian pork supply chain. And while it would appear there are some positive outcomes to certain discussions, lingering issues and adversarial relationships can be difficult to overcome. Drilling down on shared value, this edition considers the balance of marketing power between producers, processors and retailers, and how that has changed over time. Despite the discomfort, producers must keep fighting for fairness.

Processing plant protests continue to be a platform for animal activists, but now, support for farmers and truckers is starting to receive attention, as shown in this edition’s coverage of recent rallies.

On the disease management side, we provide an overview of activities taking place on the national level to combat African Swine Fever (ASF). While value-sharing and other contentious issues can divide stakeholders, ASF represents a universally respected threat, and we all have to be on guard.

On the food side, consider an expert’s opinion on COVID-19’s impact on meat retail. While grocer profits are up, so are consumer prices, thanks to more Canadians eating at home.

Research in this edition covers a study of genetic disease resilience in grow-finish pigs, how science is taking a bite out of feed costs and the cost of sow exercise.

Readers are always encouraged to drop me a line at andrew.heck@albertapork.com. I want to share your views in our ‘Letters to the editor’ section. Dialogue and understanding are the only way we can move forward, and we need a stronger chorus of voices to speak up if we wish to be heard. As it stands, it would seem our messages are getting lost somewhat in a world with so many competing interests, whether those represent ‘priorities’ or not. When push comes to shove, many may soon find out the hard way that food is not only a priority but likely the top one.

Letters to the editor

In reply to “Producer-packer tensions threaten viability” (Summer 2020)

“Why aren’t Canadian pig farmers seeing any benefit from the record-high pork export prices and volumes processors are benefiting from? The prices we receive for our animals are at a decade low. The pricing system is broken and needs to be fixed ASAP, or there will be no pig farmers left in Canada outside of Quebec.” – Mick O’Toole, Neerlandia, Alberta

In reply to “Producer-packer tensions threaten viability” (Summer 2020)

“Western Canadian producers could perhaps benefit from a pricing system like Conestoga has in Ontario, where their producers were being paid more than $2 per kilogram in mid-July, while others across the province were being paid $1.20, which is roughly $0.60 below cost of production. I have also heard about multiple producers sending their financial statements to packers like Sofina to try and get better prices, since the packers are making money like crazy right now.” – Jeremy Van Dorp, Woodstock, Ontario

In reply to “Producer-packer tensions threaten viability” (Summer 2020)

“This really looks like the end of the western Canadian independent producer as a previously viable part of our agricultural output. The circumstances are what make this almost unbelievable – that a commodity with increasing worldwide demand cannot be produced economically because of local pricing structure, rather than logistics, climate or other more obvious variables.

“This is a very western Canadian problem, and it saddens me to see independent producers choosing to downsize or exit the industry. Clearly there must be a space for all viable production. With the loss of one part of the sector, we lose production in the short term and the value of agri-business diversity overall. Not everyone can be, or desires to be, a global megaproducer, but both indeed have merit for different reasons. And there should be room for both, if both can find ways to access fair value in their product.” – Brent Taylor, Drumheller, Alberta  

Editorial – Summer 2020

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Message from the editor

The Summer 2020 edition of the Canadian Hog Journal is here!

After a few months that have seemed like an eternity, life is creeping back toward the [new] normal we have been told to expect. With any luck, we will now be better prepared to handle the predicted second wave of COVID-19, if and whenever it comes.

This edition prominently includes an exploration of shared value between producers and packers. It should come as no surprise that this matter is quite controversial and divisive. Many producers I encounter pull no punches when it comes to describing their deep-seated frustrations regarding pricing, and this article is an attempt at reflecting those concerns in a way that can hopefully inspire positive change and a collaborative path forward.

This edition also includes an update on the Spring 2020 coverage of COVID-19’s impacts on the Canadian pork industry. It is a lot to digest, and quite frankly, the news has been happening too fast to cover with an entirely clear picture of the situation. It is a tricky story to tell, and out in the world beyond our industry, our story has, unfortunately, been told badly. This has likely resulted in undue harm to our collective reputation, and we will now have to work even harder to share accurate, balanced news to raise public awareness.

In 2019, several hog and poultry farms in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec were the victims of animal activist organized crime. It is an indescribable insult to producers’ livelihoods and a black mark on the legal institutions that are supposed to protect farmers but fail miserably. Thankfully, some sympathetic political representatives have been aiming to change the game. This edition looks at what progress has been made.

If you manage to make it all the way through the heavy content, you will enjoy a summer-focussed look at the growth of home cooking, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The story reminds us how, in spite of challenges, we are ready to continue enjoying the brighter side of life to the best of our ability.

Research in this edition covers the potential cost savings of including enrichment for your herd, the intestinal fate of dietary zinc and copper, along with the role of protected acids in sow performance.

I have once again included a “Letters to the editor” section featuring reader feedback. Got something to say about what you see here? Do not hesitate to reach out and let me know. Email andrew.heck@albertapork.com with your thoughts, and they could make it into the next edition!

Letters to the editor

In reply to “Defending the pork value chain during COVID-19” (Spring 2020)

“Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, recently said agriculture needs to ‘make better use of existing [financial] support.’ What support is she referring to? AgriStability, AgriInvest or provincial programs? AgriStability is based on the last five years with the highest and lowest drops, with the remaining three years generating your average. My farm’s average sucks because government refuses to acknowledge what trade wars have done to us. Under AgriInvest, the support is matched up to $15,000. Hell, the carbon tax alone is going to eat that up!” – Maaike Campbell, Arkona, Ontario

In reply to “Defending the pork value chain during COVID-19” (Spring 2020)

“Since COVID started, my family and I have been enjoying lots of Canadian pork. It’s yummy and supports local producers and the economy!” – Karin Melnyk, Red Deer, Alberta

In reply to “Producers should seek better share of export values” (Spring 2020)

“Exports obviously form an important part of the Canadian pork industry, but consumers sometimes forget that there are great local products close to home. I’m proud to serve local food and beverage at my business, The Copper Coil Grill and Still, and I think it’s really important these days especially to support producers.” – Scott Gadsby, Squamish, B.C.

Feed additives fight summer strain

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By Chris Gwyn

Editor’s note: Chris Gwyn is Sales Director – Canada & Ruminant Sales Development Manager – North America, Jefo Nutrition. He can be contacted at ‘cgwyn@jefo.ca.’

Along with preventative maintenance in your barn, supplementing feed with vitamins and enzymes can help maintain performance and health for pigs under heat stress.

As summer approaches, the consequences of heat on pig health, productivity and reproduction become a major concern for farmers. With weather getting hotter around the world, do not wait until the thermometer hits 30 degrees-Celsius to implement changes, as heat stress can occur at temperatures as low as 23 degrees-Celsius if the humidity exceeds 75 per cent. Finding ways to help pigs to stay cool and healthy is more important than ever.  

How does heat stress affect pigs?

On hot days, animals tend to eat less, drink more and reduce their activity. Inadequate nutrition weakens the immune system, making pigs more vulnerable to infections and diseases. When pigs are exposed to high temperatures, their metabolic rate increases and, to dissipate heat, the body diverts energy away from growth, consequently reducing weight gain and increasing time to market.

Heat stress can also significantly impact reproductive performance as it can disrupt normal estrous cycles in sows, leading to irregularities in heat detection and conception rates. Heat-stressed boars may exhibit reduced libido and semen quality, further complicating breeding programs and potentially affecting genetic progress within the herd.

Preventive maintenance Is key

For an efficient farm operation, checking ventilation, cooling and water systems is essential. Accumulated dust can significantly reduce air circulation efficiency, increasing energy consumption by more than 30 per cent. Defective sprinklers can reduce the capacity to control the temperature in the barn, and uncleaned water lines with biofilm or mineral deposits are a risk to animal health. Furthermore, reducing stocking density is another way to promote a healthier barn environment, potentially improving overall well-being.

Liquid supplements to the rescue

One of the best ways to help your animals deal with the heat is by including special additives with their feed, which may include nutrients in both liquid and powder formats.

To compensate for lower feed intake, liquid blends of vitamins can boost their health and maintain their performance despite high temperatures. There are many advantages to adopt nutritional supplementation of drinking water during critical life stages. Liquid supplements allow for precise dosage control and uniform distribution among animals, are easy to use, minimize waste and optimize nutritional intake. They can also be quickly adjusted to diets based on pigs’ changing nutritional needs.

Enzymes can help

Another excellent strategy is using enzymes alone or combining several of them to create a synergistic effect on swine health and production. Three enzymes in particular – xylanase, beta-mannanase and protease – are noteworthy. 

Xylanase breaks down complex carbohydrates found in plant cell walls into smaller sugars, increasing the digestibility of plant-based ingredients like wheat, barley and corn, commonly used in swine diets, and making more energy available.

Beta-mannanase complements the action of xylanase by contributing to the energy utilization from feed ingredients such as soybean and palm kernel meal. The combination of beta-mannanase and xylanase helps compensate energy intake for the reduced feed intake typically observed during heat stress.

Protease hydrolyses proteins into smaller peptides and amino acids, improving protein utilization from ingredients like soybean meal, which may contain anti-nutritional factors that hinder protein digestion. This allows for the reduction of crude protein levels in feed and helps pigs reduce heat production associated with protein digestion. From an economic standpoint, reducing protein content in feed cuts overall costs, while from a health and performance standpoint, it promotes growth and gut health by reducing undigested proteins that could otherwise feed harmful bacteria.  

Effectively managing heat stress on pig farms demands a strategic approach to feeding, ensuring that animals receive essential nutrients in the most readily available form for optimal absorption. By addressing the challenges of reduced feed intake during heat waves with liquid supplements and enzymes, farmers can support overall health and performance of their herds. This synergistic strategy enables farmers and animals to achieve more with less.

Producer ambassadors enhance public engagement

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By Joey Dearborn

Editor’s note: Joey Dearborn is Communications and Website Coordinator, Manitoba Pork. He can be contacted at ‘jdearborn@manitobapork.com.’

Pork Proud ambassadors like Michael Waldner (left) are key to Manitoba Pork’s community outreach to consumers.

Earning public trust in food and farming is a hallmark for commodity organizations like Manitoba Pork. Having the social license to operate allows producers and the entire industry to continue to grow our sector and build livelihoods for people across our province. In Manitoba alone, 55 per cent of all full-time jobs in agriculture and food manufacturing come from pork, equating to around 22,000 people working in the hog sector across the province.

Through this idea, the Pork Proud Ambassador Program was born. Pork Proud is designed to help empower producers and those who work in the industry with the tools to communicate with the public, including consumers and students who may not have the whole story as to where their food comes from.

“Manitoba Pork created this program with the idea to multiply the number of voices who share good news about our sector and also help build educators who can in turn create more public trust,” said Kristen Matwychuk, Community Engagement Coordinator, Manitoba Pork. “Farmers continue to be the most credible source of information when it comes to our food, and we know that with more Canadians being concerned about the food production and costs, we want to be able to share the great story about Manitoba’s hog sector with as many people as we can.”

Recent data compiled by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) shows that farmers are considered the most trusted authorities on food, ranking higher than scientists, the Canadian agriculture sector overall, government agencies, processors and manufacturers. This inherent trust is a key foundation of the Pork Proud program, positioning pork producers and industry experts to provide positive and accurate information about our dynamic industry, while at the same time building public trust. The same CCFI data showed that Canadians are sensitive to misinformation about how food is produced in Canada, which is why they are open to hearing the facts about what they decide to feed their families.

Manitoba Pork’s Kristen Matwychuk leads the training for Pork Proud ambassadors.

“We want ambassadors to be comfortable with answering questions and debunking misinformation,” said Matwychuk. “We know that in the social media age, there are a lot of mistruths out there about how animals are cared for and about how we protect the environment, so we want to be able to convey information in an easily understood way and provide consumers with a holistic understanding of our sector.”

To become a Pork Proud ambassador, the first step is an in-person introductory course. Training sessions that follow include a mix of required and optional workshops in a variety of subject areas, including answering tough questions, storytelling through social media, written communications, communicating with decision makers like politicians and media training. Ambassadors also receive a robust information kit with fact sheets, Q&As, relevant training documents and branded items that readily identify their roles.

The first training session was held in March at the Bruce D. Campbell Farm and Food Discovery Centre in Winnipeg. The location is Manitoba’s premier agriculture education facility and allowed participants the ability to practice their skills in an environment frequently used for events with the public.

“Having the ability to showcase the inside of a real working Manitoba hog barn is one of the key pieces of the Farm and Food Discovery Centre,” said Matwychuk. “Every year, we host events there with other commodities, so we were able to practice some of the questions our staff get at each event and work through some of the best practices for answering those.”

Manitoba Pork takes part in a variety of events throughout the year, including the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, Discover Ag in the City, Discover the Farm and other community events that allow for in-depth conversations about the hog sector, swapping recipes and cooking tips, as well as handing out fun promotional items like squishy pigs. These opportunities also allow the public to engage one-on-one with a farmer and ask all about life on a Manitoba hog farm.

Several Manitoba pork producers were eager to take part in the first Pork Proud ambassador training session this year.

“I took the Pork Proud training to gain more confidence in dealing with the public at community events and on social media platforms,” said Sheldon Dyck, a hog farmer from southeastern Manitoba and a new Pork Proud ambassador. “As hog farmers, we understand the daily routines of what happens on the farm, but it’s often hard to communicate that to someone who doesn’t have a full understanding of agriculture. I am looking forward to taking more training and developing new skills.”

As the program continues to grow, Manitoba Pork hopes to attract new ambassadors from across the value chain, which could allow the organization to broaden the number of community events they participate in each year.

“Everyone who works in agriculture has a story to tell about why they love working in our sector, and empowering people to share that story is why this program is so exciting,” said Matwychuk. “Hearing those stories allows people to connect deeply with where their food comes from and that couldn’t be a better advertisement for our sector’s positive impact in Manitoba.”

Heat stress creates feed intake challenges

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By Maude Richer-Lanciault

Editor’s note: Maude Richer-Lanciault is Monogastric Nutrition Manager, Trouw Nutrition. For more information, contact ‘lauren.dawson@trouwnutrition.com.’

With earlier and warmer temperatures during the summer, heat stress is a concern across Canada. Warm and humid weather can create sow performance issues in barns. With modern hyperprolific sows, this can be a real puzzle to solve. Weather cannot be controlled, but there are some solutions to help manage the impact of heat stress in sows.

Why are pigs sensitive to heat stress?

Figure 1: Effects of heat stress on pigs

Pigs are particularly sensitive to heat stress because they do not sweat. To lower their body temperature, pigs will send more blood from the intestines to the skin surface to dissipate heat out to the environment. This can cause damage to intestinal cells due to a lack of oxygen. Thus, nutrient absorption decreases and the pig becomes more susceptible to pathogens, known as ‘leaky gut syndrome.’ With this, their feed intake and performance will decrease (Figure 1).

The genetics and physiological composition of domesticated pigs has changed considerably in recent years, and we have seen a significant decrease in fat deposition. From 1991 to 2001, the body lean tissue rate increased by 1.55 per cent. This increase of lean muscle increased metabolic heat production by 14.6 per cent. In turn, the increase in body heat production requires an adjustment to barn ventilation to remove this extra heat.

Figure 2: Heat stress index for pigs

The thermoneutrality zone is the temperature zone in which pigs perform best. The ideal temperature for sows is 18 degrees-Celsius. At temperatures above 23 degrees-Celsius, sows begin to experience heat stress and their feed intake will start to be affected. Between 20 degrees-Celsius and 30 degrees-Celsius, feed intake will be reduced by 23 per cent. Ambient temperature is not the only factor that causes heat stress; humidity also plays a role. Depending on relative humidity, the apparent temperature may be different and is what the sow will feel. For example, a barn with high humidity of 80 per cent will be in heat stress danger at 26 degrees-Celsius, whereas another barn with similar temperature and 70 per cent humidity will be on heat stress alert (Figure 2). It is important to control the environment in your barn.

What can we do to support our sows during a heat stress period?

To support sows experiencing heat stress, the environmentin the barn should be monitored and adjusted appropriately, with consideration given to ventilation, cooling systems and heat pads for piglets. Drip cooling, by applying water on the pig’s skin, can have a cooling effect, potentially in combination with higher air speeds. Air movement is essential with this cooling technique due to the increase of moisture in the room. It is important to keep the sows and piglets comfortable. Care should be taken to avoid a draft on piglets, since newborn piglets have higher thermoneutrality than sows. Air quality should be assessed for the welfare of both animals and workers.

The quality and quantity of wateris extremely important for sows; it should always be readily available and be of good quality. Water quality assessments to determine mineral composition and microbiology should be performed before the summer. Water flow at multiple points should be verified. The barn should have enough water drinkers for the sows in the group housing section. Cool water will help the sows to better manage a high temperature.

If you see a change in the sows’ feeding patterns, match this pattern to your feed allocation program. Lactation feed should be available during cooler periods of the day, during early morning and late night, and feed should be kept fresh and clean to stimulate intake.

Using nutrition to combat heat stress

As heat stress reduces a sow’s feed intake, it can subsequently depress milk production, leading to reduced piglet body weight gain. Your nutritionist can work with you to find the best strategy for summer management in your barn. Many options are available, including solutions like adjusting the feeding program, the use of specific additives or changes in diet formulations.

Many tools can be used to adjust your feeding program during heat stress. For example, Trouw Nutrition’s NutriOpt Sow Model can determine the target feed intake according to different temperatures and evaluate the best density for your feed and customize the program according to your environment, genetics, performance and management.

An adjustment of the density of the feed can also support a lower feed intake during summer. For instance, a specific adjustment of amino acid ratios with energy, protein level, fibre and other nutrients can keep the feed balanced with higher density. Altogether, the goal should be to support sows’ needs and create less heat during the digestive process. It is also important to keep the feed very palatable to stimulate feed intake, as sows have excellent taste perception.

Oxidative stress impacts high-producing animals, especially under challenging conditions like heat stress. Antioxidants reduce the damaging effects of oxidative stress. The addition of an antioxidant package to the feed can support your sows during the heat stress period.

Table 1: A diet with a polyphenol blend additive improved sows’ reproductive performance.

In a research trial, the addition of a mix of polyphenols – Trouw Nutrition’s Selko POmix flavour blend – increased sows’ reproductive performance, compared with a control group that only received Vitamin E. Polyphenols reduce lipid peroxidation before and during heat stress by decreasing malondialdehyde (MDA) production (Table 1). The addition of the flavour blend containing polyphenols increased lactation feed intake, increased the number of piglets weaned and increased litter weaning weight. Therefore, based on the results of this study, the use of polyphenols may increase the antioxidant capacity in sow diets to improve piglet performance while maintaining cost per piglet produced.

Several other additives are available on the market. For example, for leaky gut syndrome, adding antioxidants and osmoregulatory compounds, such as betaine, helps prevent the negative effects of heat stress in pigs. It is better to select the additive that will have the best return on investment and fit with your needs.

Heat stress impacts performance on multiple levels and can have large impacts on sow farms. It is best to adopt multiple strategies to reduce its negative effects. Farm strategies include ensuring water quality and availability for all pigs and adjusting the environment for the correct temperature and humidity in the barn. Feeding strategies include keeping your feed palatable and fresh, adding an antioxidant package or other additives, and adjusting the feed density. Your nutritionist can help evaluate these factors and recommend strategies to reduce the impacts of heat stress on your farm.

Country-of-origin rules complicate pig trade

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By Andrew Heck

Canadian weaners, market hogs and cull sows head to the U.S. every day, but country-of-origin labelling could destabilize businesses on both sides of the border.

Integration and cooperation are fundamental to many livestock industries in Canada and the U.S. For the Canadian pork sector, pigs are shipped every day to destinations south of the border, where they’re raised to market weight on farms or sent directly to processing facilities for slaughter. It makes sense for both sides: Canadian producers are afforded a broader choice of marketing options, while U.S. producers and processors receive much desired supply.

Starting in 2021, discussions around country-of-origin labelling re-emerged in the U.S. after several years of hiatus. Driven by increasingly protectionist sentiments, the idea has support among some livestock sectors, politicians and consumers but ignores many of the practical realities that allow the Canadian and U.S. pork sectors to do business freely. The return of country-of-origin labelling threatens not only our positive international relationship but could complicate pork availability and result in price hikes at retail.

While the latest country-of-origin rules proposed for meat, poultry and egg products are ‘voluntary’ (vCOOL), many in Canada and the U.S. expect labelling could have a similar effect to the ‘mandatory’ (mCOOL) conditions that were imposed in 2008 and eventually struck down in 2015. Incoming vCOOL rules were announced in March 2024, and the ‘Product of USA’ or ‘Made in the USA’ label will once again be eligible for generic use on qualifying products, starting in January 2026.

As the clock ticks toward the return of regulatory burden, Canadian and U.S partners have been brought back to the unfortunate and avoidable position of conflict with legislators.

Fear of competition is bad for business

The World Trade Organization (WTO) previously ruled in favour of Canada and Mexico, during the ‘mandatory’ country-of-origin labelling (mCOOL) dispute, in 2014. Image © Jeanne Menjoulet

mCOOL was first proposed in the 2002 Farm Bill presented to U.S. Congress, but after some implementation delays, the 2008 Farm Bill was where it officially got off the ground. Sensing competition from the Canadian and Mexican beef markets, U.S. beef producers advocated for greater clarity around beef origins: cattle from Canada, finished and slaughtered in the U.S. – they claimed – should not be considered fully American. U.S. Congress agreed and set forth regulations requiring retailers to package fresh beef, pork and lamb with indicators of where animals were born, raised and harvested.

Following mCOOL implementation, the Canadian red meat industry’s position was that the legislation unfairly discriminated against imported livestock. Under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed in 1992, there existed provisions for partners in the deal to oppose technical barriers to trade, with the World Trade Organization (WTO) responsible for resolving such disputes. After a six-year, costly battle between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, the WTO sided with Canada and Mexico.

While mCOOL appeared open and shut, again in 2021, cross-border competition began to worry the U.S. beef sector, and vCOOL conversations heated up. Tom Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was the official under whom the 2008 Farm Bill was passed, during President Barack Obama’s first term. Vilsack was reappointed to the position with the election of President Joe Biden.

As under NAFTA, the updated Canada-U.S.-Mexico (CUSMA) or U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Agreement includes trade dispute resolution mechanisms through the WTO. And, once again, Canadian industry and government stakeholders are preparing for round two of defending the interests of Canadian producers.

Lawrence MacAulay, Minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and Mary Ng, Minister, Export Promotion, International Trade and Economic Development Canada, issued a joint statement in response to the finalization of vCOOL rules.

“The meat and livestock sectors in Canada and the United States work closely together, supporting food security as well as local and regional food systems,” the statement reads. “Canada remains concerned about any measures that may cause disruptions to the highly integrated North American meat and livestock supply chains.”

The Canadian Pork Council (CPC) was also quick to respond.

“This regulation will force division into an aligned industry that will only increase costs for producers, for processors and ultimately for consumers,” said René Roy, Chair, Canadian Pork Council (CPC). “We are pleased the Government of Canada has already indicated it will be looking at options to correct the protectionist nature of these proposed regulations.”

The U.S. National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) worries that the industry’s hard work to overcome labelling concerns in years past could be undone with the latest ruling.

“It’s something we’ve fought against for over a decade, and we were successful in repealing mandatory country-of-origin labelling after the WTO ruling,” said Maria Zieba, Vice President of International Affairs, NPPC. “Our biggest concern then, as now, is the impact on trade.”

With the stage set for much deliberation and debate ahead, it’s worth exploring why vCOOL matters to the industry and why it should matter to consumers.

Canadian pigs come in peace

The U.S. National Pork Producers Council’s (NPPC) Maria Zieba is concerned the U.S. industry could face retaliation, as a result of the incoming vCOOL implementation.

While live pigs cross the Canada-U.S. border for various reasons, three types of U.S. buyers of Canadian pigs stand out: producers across the Midwest looking to fill barns with weaners for finishing to market weight, small- and medium-sized processors in the sparsely populated northern U.S. interior looking for hogs to slaughter, and processors in the concentrated Minnesota-Iowa-South Dakota meatpacking heartland looking for cull sows.

For the past decade, the U.S. has received more than 4.5 million Canadian pigs annually. Manitoba alone is responsible for three million of those. Altogether, live pig and pork exports to all foreign countries, not just the U.S., represent 90 per cent of Manitoba’s production. Across Canada, the total amounts to around 70 per cent of production.

“When this comes into effect, it’s going to cause a discount on live animals going to the U.S.,” said Cam Dahl, General Manager, Manitoba Pork. “Barriers to trade cost everybody in the system.”

Manitoba’s proximity to major pork-producing U.S. states situates it ideally for cross-border movements; however, this also makes the province especially vulnerable to political decisions outside of Canadian control.

“Right now, if an isowean from Manitoba is shipped to Iowa, finished in Iowa and processed in Iowa, large retailers buy that pork and sell it in Canada as ‘Product of USA,’” said Dahl. “My concern is that big brands are simply going to say, ‘We’re not going to change our supply chain and label. Producers and processors are going to have to comply.’”

Supply chain communication could prove vital as businesses begin to make decisions in advance of implementation.

“It’s going to depend on how it gets rolled out. It’s voluntary, and it’ll be up to the retailers to assess whether it makes economic sense,” said Zieba. “Retailers may have a product they want to differentiate in the marketplace, but it’s up to producers and processors to explain their added costs and ask retailers whether it’s in their best interest.”

While much of the potential impact of vCOOL depends on retailers’ decisions around how to apply it, political polarization itself likely cannot be blamed for how it transpired.

“It doesn’t matter which policy controls U.S. Congress or the White House. I think these concerns aren’t party-dependent, and that’s not just the case for the U.S. but also Canada,” said Dahl. “The pandemic accelerated the ‘us first’ approach.”

In terms of next steps, the WTO’s past ruling on the matter could still hold weight in the argument, which undoubtedly worries NPPC.

“Both the Canadian and Mexican governments have made strong statements,” said Zieba. “We’re trying not to take an antagonistic approach on this.”

But words need to be backed with action. For the Canadian industry, that means holding leaders accountable and continuing to pressure for support.

“We need to have a strategy and approach from our government. We’re looking to have a strong push back on this – from both federal and provincial governments,” said Dahl. “Not just because of country-of-origin labelling, but we have to push back on this protectionist mindset.”

Sticker shock could surprise consumers

While pork remains more affordable than some proteins like beef and chicken, price pressures have already been seen at retail in the U.S. Even in Canada, ‘Product of USA’ pork is sold by some retailers.

As food price inflation rates in Canada and the U.S. have left consumers unsettled in recent years, further pressures to price – such as reduced supply – will almost certainly fuel the fire.

Underscoring the political will for vCOOL is perceived consumer support for transparency surrounding where their food comes from, based on a survey conducted by the USDA in 2023 that showed 65 per cent of respondents were in favour of the regulations.

For U.S. consumers of pork that originated with Canadian-born pigs, is it food safety or quality concerns that have stoked division? The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and USDA are both recognized as two of the top food safety regulators globally, and many agri-food products are freely exchanged between the two countries.

In terms of pork quality comparisons between Canada and the U.S., feed ingredients, medicines and other production implements are often shared, highlighting just how deep integration goes. The Canadian Pork Excellence (CPE) program in Canada and Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA) program in the U.S. are designed to train and certify producers on many of the same principles, and these programs are respected by overseas buyers of Canadian and U.S. pork.

Most importantly, integration between the Canadian and U.S. pork industries has allowed both countries to remain limber and responsive to domestic and global pork demand – a key achievement in the battle for increased food security and affordability.

Canada, with roughly one-tenth the population of the U.S., overproduces pigs for domestic pork demand. While the U.S. also relies on exports, its domestic market is much larger, fueling high demand. In recent years, the U.S. has been Canada’s top export destination for fresh pork, averaging around 400,000 tonnes annually. On the flip side, the U.S. exports more than 200,000 tonnes of fresh pork to Canada annually, in addition to many processed products, like sausages, deli meat and bacon.

Partnership matters over politics

Closer relationships between the Canadian and U.S. pork industries benefit both sides.

Given the history and ongoing nature of the Canada-U.S. relationship in pigs and pork, any threat to its stability is not in the interests of pork producers, processors, retailers or consumers.

As political discourse becomes increasingly populist in nature, and as voters align themselves to ideologies that have the potential to challenge economic development and trade, humble agriculture – the very heart of food production and distribution – is inevitably caught in the crossfire.

While protectionism has become increasingly entrenched, well-intentioned defense of national industries sometimes has the effect of disrupting supply chains against the will of key stakeholders. The Canadian and U.S. pork industries have made their opposition to vCOOL loud and clear, and politicians across borders and party lines have a duty to listen.

Pork industry wakes up to counting wild boar

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By Andrew Heck

Wild boar surveillance and eradication go hand-in-hand. Researchers and partners convened at the Alberta Invasive Species Council’s (AISC) Conference in March 2024 to share their work.

Unlike counting sheep, counting wild boar won’t lull anyone to sleep. It’s a tedious job, and locating these elusive creatures is often best done at night, when they’re most active.

Eurasian wild boar were introduced into Canada in the 1980s as a livestock diversification strategy; however, obvious drawbacks quickly outweighed intended benefits. As these resilient animals escaped or were deliberately released from farms and controlled hunting sites, they quickly became established as an invasive, highly destructive population in local ecosystems. Their ongoing presence jeopardizes crops, livestock and the environment, drawing keen interest from diverse stakeholders.

For hog producers, the primary concern is that wild boar could potentially transmit diseases like African Swine Fever (ASF) and Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), which, if discovered in Canada, would likely close most foreign markets to trade in Canadian pork, worth more than $5 billion every year. FMD would impact not only pigs but other ruminants, like cattle, affecting beef trade. Valued partners are counting on the Canadian pork industry to fend off these diseases, and as a result, support for wild boar control continues to grow, as public awareness increases.

In early 2023, Alberta Pork approached Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR) – the Government of Alberta’s non-profit agricultural research funding organization – to support a wild boar monitoring project with the University of Calgary. With assistance from Alberta Pork and Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation, researchers and producers across the province have been working together to find out where wild boar are concentrated, how they’re interacting with wild and domestic animals, and what kinds of diseases they might be spreading.

While the project is still ongoing, researchers and their partners are eager to share more about the work, why it matters, and what producers, the agriculture industry and the public can do to help.

Wild boar home range likely larger in Alberta

Researchers have installed dozens of wildlife cameras across Alberta in the hopes of better understanding the province’s wild boar population.

Getting an accurate tally of wild boar on Alberta’s vast landscape is no easy task, but through the use of strategically placed wildlife cameras, researchers are able to get a 24/7 view of crop fields, pastures and bush across many of the province’s rural municipalities.

Mathieu Pruvot is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary. Working with graduate students Devin Fitzpatrick, Oshin Ley and Luis Salazar, the group has undertaken various components of research, covering the ecology of wild boar to surveillance and testing for pathogens, which requires collecting and analyzing large volumes of information.

“We’re going to learn a lot from the data we gather, in terms of where to look and what to look for,” said Pruvot. “There has been a lot of discussion and coordination between the partners on this work, and we’re trying to figure out how to sustain this long-term to support the bigger goals, like potential eradication.”

Eradication efforts in the province, directed by Alberta Pork and Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation, have been underway for several years, but to optimize those efforts, emphasis on specific areas is expected to help.

“The more you understand about movements, the more targeted you can be with trap placements,” said Fitzpatrick. “What we’re doing is trying to get information to help make decisions down the line.”

Last year, Fitzpatrick used wild boar sighting data to identify areas containing suspected populations, then placed wildlife cameras in those general locations by randomly selecting spots using GIS software. In total, she has 84 cameras spread across 14 clusters, with six cameras each. They’re divided between Woodlands County, Lac Ste. Anne County and Yellowhead County, west of Edmonton, and the County of Two Hills, County of St. Paul and Vermilion River County, east of Edmonton. The cameras are located on a mix of private and public land, in different kinds of habitats.

Now that the cameras have been in place for roughly one year, memory cards are in the process of being collected for analysis, while continuing to monitor for another year with fresh cards. As no wild boar density estimates for Alberta currently exist, the researchers are aiming to establish an approximation, followed by ‘home range’ measurements for the groups, called ‘sounders.’

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests feral swine in the southern U.S. have a home range of less than eight square kilometres, but the researchers are working to establish parameters for Alberta’s wild boar population. Further work with GPS-collared wild boar males and females can also shed light on information such as contact within and between sounders, which informs potential disease transmission rates.

When wild boar sounders are captured through eradication efforts, carcasses are sent to a provincial government necropsy lab, then made available as part of this research.

Rooting out the source of disease

Aside from trying to gauge the spread and density of wild boar populations, understanding which diseases they carry has generated valuable insight into the risks they pose to livestock.

Tests performed on samples gathered from wild boar carcasses suggest the same strains of Porcine Circovirus 2 & 3 (PCV2 & PCV3) commonly found in domestic pig production are being discovered in wild boar.

“It’s one of the important diseases that’s challenging the pork sector and economy,” said Ley.

In addition to PCV2 & PCV3, Ley’s work involves performing serological tests to determine the strains of Influenza A, Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), Mycoplasma and Erisypelas found in samples.

Following serological testing, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing of wild boar tissues and sequencing is helping to characterize pathogens, to determine whether transmission is occurring frequently between wild boar and domestic pigs or whether the pathogens are largely spreading within wild boar, in isolation. Wild boar scat, on the other hand, is being analyzed for genetic markers of antimicrobial resistance and whether those genes are being exchanged between wild boar and domestic pigs.

Lab results have also shown the presence of viruses that are suspected to have been contracted from other wildlife species. As opportunistic omnivores, it’s speculated that consumption of infected carcasses may be the culprit.

“This isn’t very surprising itself,” said Pruvot. “There’s been a lot of transmission of viruses between wild and domestic animals in the past couple of years in Canada. But this is significant, as it suggests that wild boar are picking up pathogens that commonly spread in other hosts, including livestock. This should not be ignored.”

When it comes to concerns over the potential to spread ASF specifically, the team is developing a model to understand how the virus might spread if it were to enter the wild boar population. That information could prove vital in the event it’s needed.

Producer support integral to efforts

Participants are spread out across Alberta’s rural municipalities, with a focus on areas in the north-central and western parts of the province, where wild boar are commonly found.

For producers like Jurgen Preugschas, being involved with wild boar surveillance was a no-brainer.

“It’s always been worrisome to me, especially when I was a purebred breeder, since health is so important,” said Preugschas. “We’ve been fortunate to experience only limited damage over the years, but we continue to see them.”

Preugschas currently operates a medium-sized wean-to-finish operation near Mayerthorpe, in an area where wild boar have long been sighted and are being targeted for eradication.

“Being that nothing was done to control the situation starting in the 1980s, it’s developed into a pretty widespread problem in our area,” said Preugschas. “Eliminating wild boar from certain areas is going to be really hard. It’s going to require government commitment and support from industry.”

While the problem is clear to commercial producers like Preugschas, he’s concerned that alarm bells may not be ringing for some producers.

“The challenge for small-scale producers is to understand that they are part of a connected industry. It may not be a big-ticket item to them, but it can have a massive impact overall,” said Preugschas. “Not only diseases like ASF and FMD, but trichinosis could also be a concerned for producers with outdoor pigs.”

James Tschetter runs a 24,000-head finishing operation near Wanham. He recently completed disinfecting his barn, as a biosecurity measure – a practice used by producers to uphold animal welfare and food safety standards. He has also joined the research project, along with two of his neighbours.

“We’ve got a lot of wildlife up here, so I think it’s important we know where wild boar are,” said Tschetter. “It’s a big biosecurity issue for us. From my understanding, wild boar are in the county to our south.”

Tschetter’s eagerness for the project is reflected by Alberta Pork’s dedication to addressing the problem.

“They’re putting their money where their mouth is,” said Tschetter. “It’s good to know they’re on top of this, making a great team effort.”

Small-scale producer engagement needed

Oshin Ley, Devin Fitzpatrick and Luis Salazar presented on wild boar surveillance during Results Driven Agriculture Research’s (RDAR) research showcase in January 2024. Salazar has also been attending pork industry events like the Red Deer Swine Technology Workshop and Banff Pork Seminar to talk about the project.

As the work continues, the team is eager to spread the word about the project and recruit new producers to participate.

“A lot of this project hinges on collaboration with producers,” said Pruvot. “This includes generating observations and reports of wild boar, and most specifically documenting occurrences on farms through the survey we’re conducting.”

Pruvot reiterated that camera tracking and reported sightings by members of the public are not mutually exclusive; sightings help identify areas to target, which makes the best use of the resources at their disposal and provides greater focus.

The project so far has seen positive support from many of the commercial producers approached; however, opportunity and motivation exist to involve more small-scale producers, especially outdoor productions. Though many of these individuals may consider themselves to be outside of the industry, the need for their participation cannot be under-stated.

“They may not have seen wild boar personally, so they think it has nothing to do with them,” said Salazar. “But some of their farms are in the core areas, where most of the sightings are coming from. We want to hear from them, as they’re really our eyes in rural areas.”

For producers who have experienced repeated encounters with wild boar, a more detailed sub-study is taking place to understand interactions with livestock on those farms. Creating this understanding for Alberta matters, as the province’s wild boar population is distinct from those in the southern U.S., along with Europe, where Eurasian wild boar are native.

While a full summary of results is not yet available, Pruvot is confident that the project is moving in the right direction. Rather than approaching the efforts as a one-off to satisfy the ends of the project, Pruvot recognizes the need for continued and increased stakeholder engagement, to achieve mutual goals.

“It’s starting to tell us the story of what’s happening,” said Pruvot. “I think we’re going to learn quite a bit from this, and we are doing our best to generate information that is directly relevant to the pork industry and our partners in the provincial and federal governments.”

In addition to camera installations, the team is actively running a survey for all hog producers in Alberta – no matter the production size or type, and regardless of whether they have personally seen wild boar on their properties – which comes with the chance to win a gift card, as a little incentive. Producers interested in taking part can access the survey using the QR code found in this article.

Keeping the momentum going

Alberta producers who are interested in sharing their experiences with wild boar are asked to complete a short survey, which can be accessed through the QR code shown above.

Across North America, concern for the wild boar problem, and the recommended management strategies, differ; however, when it comes to Alberta’s efforts, partnerships between producers, researchers, government and industry have been integral to gaining a handle on the issue.

“We’ve been satisfied with the research so far, and we hope everyone will see the value in it,” said Javier Bahamon, Quality Assurance and Production Manager, Alberta Pork. “We encourage all producers who are interested to help out the researchers.”

Alberta Pork and its partners remain committed to the cause, supporting healthy livestock and ecosystems, and creating assurances among global partners that the pork industry is doing everything it can to protect pigs that are transformed into the high-quality pork on their customers’ plates.

Forward contract profitability requires benchmarks

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By Paul Marchand

Editor’s note: Paul Marchand is Senior Risk Management Analyst, h@ms Marketing Services. He can be contacted at ‘paul@hamsmarketing.ca.’

This article does not reflect the official position of the h@ms Marketing Servies management team. Observations and personal opinions on market developments do not guarantee future events and should not be considered financial advice. Producers should always consult with their trusted professionals before making any financial decisions.

Since the beginning of the year, lean hog futures – the commodity underlying Canadian forward contract values – have been trending upward. While we were of the view the upside potential was, and is, limited, the general tone in the marketplace was that the trajectory higher would be maintained and that the ‘top’ had been yet to be determined.

That all changed on April 10. On that day, the futures market sold off about three per cent, which is a huge one-day move. On April 12, another more than three per cent drop in lean hog futures developed with the June contract reaching the daily limit low and halting the trading of that contract for the day. Sow supplies are tightening. Export volumes remain excellent. The net value of the cutout was approximately 25 per cent higher than year-ago, as of this writing. Cash is trending above last year too. What gives?

Inflation continues to create pressure

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) remains elevated, creating impacts across supply chains.

External market factors pressured almost all asset classes on April 10 as investors finally came to grips with the idea that the U.S. Federal Reserve will not be lowering interest rates anytime soon.

That was triggered by a slightly higher Consumer Price Index (CPI) relative to expectations in the U.S. The 3.5 per cent March CPI was only 0.1 per cent higher than expectations but clearly moving in the wrong direction and almost certainly taking the widely debated interest rate cut in June off the table. The net result was a sell-off in many investment classes, including lean hogs.

But aren’t the fundamentals supposed to be strong as noted above? Yes; all those things are true, but as we have been suggesting in the ‘Hog Market Outlook’ (our daily producer newsletter), there is (or was) a lot of institutional investing in lean hog futures and the moves lower on April 10 and 12 almost certainly proved it. Lean hog futures had risen in the weeks leading up to April 10 almost in concert with ‘Managed Money’ traders increasing their long positions (a buy activity). While this was happening, key technical resistance levels were being reached: the market became overbought for days on end (a technical term, not an opinion of value), technical chart resistance was being met (Fibonacci retracement), new life-of-contract highs were being reached, and all investors needed to take profits was a reason.

The reaction to the March CPI number provided that reason, and the market corrected lower. Even with the Canadian Dollar falling about one cent over two days (it too came under pressure), the net result in a forward contract price was a loss of approximately $7 CAD/ckg for a summer month contract by the end of the week. It is a constant reminder that markets can and do change rapidly – oftentimes without warning – and sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with hogs or pigs, supply or demand.

Year-over-year improvements provide optimism

Better productivity may help explain why U.S. sow liquidation is being offset by higher hog numbers this year.

It is very admirable to be optimistic in this industry, but sometimes we shouldn’t let opinions cloud better judgement. As of mid-April, there was still good value in Canadian forward contracts, albeit not at the highs.

While a deep dive on input costs will not be discussed here, we know, anecdotally, that feed costs have decreased compared to last year, or even months ago. Producer margins have improved, and the producers who are willing to share their motivations for locking in prices during March and April cite higher profit margins compared to previous years as rationale. This is an example of classic risk management. Locking in at a profitable margin is one way to decide to hedge. But we all want to capture the best possible price, so what about the other market watchers who say hog futures could be above the $120 USD/cwt range this summer? The July contract on April 12 was approximately $104 at the close. That is massive speculation in this author’s opinion.

On March 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published the ‘Quarterly Hogs and Pigs’ report – a much-anticipated update on live hog numbers in the U.S. which, occasionally, can change market sentiment in the lean hog futures. While the focus is on hog numbers in the U.S., Canadian producers are very interested in the report because of the way market hogs are priced north of the border. That is, the price for hogs in almost all of Canada is based off regional U.S. prices through its ‘Mandatory Price Reporting’ (MPR) cash price and the CME Group lean hog futures for Canadian forward contracting. The ‘Quarterly Hogs and Pigs’ report is a supply-side estimate which inevitably is one half of the fundamental picture. As such, it has the potential to change marketing dynamics and price outlooks in the U.S. and Canada for months at a time.

Some hog numbers, particularly ‘All Hogs and Pigs,’ ‘Kept for Marketing’ and the ‘December to February Pig Crop,’ were higher than year-ago, up 0.6 per cent, 0.8 per cent and 1.9 per cent, respectively. This seemed counterintuitive to the relatively aggressive and ongoing sow liquidations that began months earlier. How can we get more pigs from fewer sows? The U.S. hog industry is in contraction with sow liquidation presently at the second-highest year-to-date pace on record. Ultimately, more pigs can come from better productivity, and that is the underlying assumption supporting higher hog numbers for 2024. Multiply the present farrowing (and intended) population by the present ‘Pigs Per Litter’ estimate (11.53 in the most recent report), and you will get slightly more pigs than last year. It’s just math.

Whether one agrees with the March ‘Hogs and Pigs’ report or not is irrelevant, and the futures market will respond one way or another. What we are attempting to do is map out an objective marketing strategy that attempts to mitigate against speculation (the Funds’ record long position), opinions on the ‘Hogs and Pigs’ report (or China) for example, and external market shocks like a high CPI that triggered the selloff in April. Markets are unpredictable, occasionally volatile, and there are no guarantees.

Are the futures in your favour?

Considering 2014, 2021 and 2022, this year’s outlook is less exciting, but lower feed costs could make the difference.

When deciding when to take price protection, producers should consider their costs of production, benchmarks to assess value in the forward contract and how futures contracts are performing against historical cash seasonality.

Costs of production are very farm-specific. No two producers are alike. Some of the more efficient producers will have lower costs of production while other operations will be higher. Determining an accurate cost of production for your operation is critical. If you already know it, great! If you do not, make it a priority. A high hog price does not necessarily mean an operation will be profitable, and we only need to look at the 2022 marketing year as an example of squeezed margins amid high hog prices.

After production costs have been established, the next step is to determine if there is ‘good value’ in a forward contract. This is a bit trickier because market views vary, and two out of the past three years have seen incredible cash market performance leading some in our industry to expect the same sort of price profile in subsequent years. Producers who attend h@ms Marketing meetings already know that we consider the 2021 and 2022 marketing years to be outliers, and that we do not expect those higher levels to represent a trend moving forward. To be clear, we do expect higher prices relative to pre-2020 seasonal histories, and even last year, but a revisit to price levels immediately following the two post-pandemic marketing years is a very ambitious position to take. The 2023 marketing year proved that, when a post-Easter lull in cash pricing developed for the first time in three years.

This year, that pull-back has not (yet) materialized, and with the cutout about 25 per cent higher compared to the same marketing week last year on April 12, we think cutout supports cash and a steadier trend higher is possible. But will it outpace forward contract values presently offered? All that matters is that producers pick achievable benchmarks, and to that end, we would suggest the three-year cash average which does include 2021 and 2022 in its calculation.

The final step is to observe current lean hog futures values to historical cash seasonality. We do this to determine if there is good value in the futures. Isn’t that the same as the previous step? Yes and no. In the previous step, the intent is to determine how Canadian forward contract prices are performing relative to Canadian cash histories, because it contains Canadian dollar exchange values in the calculation. In this step, we are looking at U.S. cash historical seasonality and comparing it to the lean hog futures spreads. And we do this by observing the percentage of movement in the current lean hog futures compared to the per cent moves in USD/cwt cash base prices.

In this sense, we can see that even though 2014, 2021 and 2022 cash and futures were much higher than present values on a dollar basis, seasonal cash per cent changes remained intact. The difference in value between the July and October National cash base in USD/cwt in 2014, for example (-20.9 per cent), was very similar to the five-year average per cent change over the same timeframe (-19.5 per cent); last year, cash moved 27 per cent lower between July and October.

Therefore, if the futures are pricing in a premium or discount relative to the historical spreads, we can determine if the futures market is bullish or bearish relative to history. If the futures are outperforming the historical spread, that could also be a hedging signal. Less optimistic futures may imply it could be better to wait for the next opportunity.

Hog price versus production cost: keep it simple

If an operation locks in a price that is higher than production costs, the Canadian forward contract is outperforming the Canadian cash history, and the current futures in USD/cwt are performing better than historical cash seasonality, this is considered a good hedge.

It does not mean it is the highest price one can achieve (and which we only know in hindsight), and it does not guarantee that the forward contract will be ‘in the money’ when the contract concludes. But it is an objectively determined approach to hedging against volatility, like was seen this past April, and another tool producers can use to effectively manage profitable margins in a market rife with rampant speculation.

Message from the editor – Spring 2024

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The Spring 2024 edition of the Canadian Hog Journal is here, and with it, a new look!

This edition features our refreshed, modernized magazine layout, along with hand-drawn cover art supplied by a student artist.

Find coverage of Alberta Pork’s wild boar surveillance project, along with reaction to voluntary country-of-origin labelling (vCOOL) in the U.S., in addition to a futures market outlook from h@ms Marketing and an overview of Manitoba Pork’s Pork Proud Ambassador Program.

Swine Innovation Porc (SIP) Chair, Arno Schober, provides an update on SIP’s new strategic plan, and we have another SIP Cluster 3 research summary, related to pulses for feed. You can also find an article on the cost of nursery mortality, from Zinpro, and two on heat stress mitigation strategies, from Trouw Nutrition and Jefo Nutrition.

The Canadian Hog Journal’s unique circulation model means all hog producers registered with their respective provincial pork producer organizations in western Canada receive each edition by mail, along with many more in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. It’s Canada’s only magazine covering swine topics coast-to-coast from a producer-focused perspective, distributed free-of-charge.

While the circulation model means there’s no cost to producers and other subscribers, it does mean we rely on advertising dollars to keep it in print. Could your business or event benefit from advertising with us? Ads are sold not under commission, and revenue goes directly into the design, print and distribution costs. Our media kit, including ad rates, is available on our website, ‘canadianhogjournal.com.’

Ad inquiries, news releases, ideas, feedback and suggestions can be sent to ‘andrew.heck@albertapork.com,’ and you can join the conversation on social media by tagging the Canadian Hog Journal (@HogJournal) on Facebook and X.

Addressing stray voltage supports pig comfort and safety

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By Pierre-André Meunier

Editor’s note: Pierre-André Meunier is President, PrevTech Innovations & President, Agrivolt. He can be contacted at ‘pameunier@agrivolt.com.’

Quebec-based Agrivolt is available to help producers across Canada and the U.S. address stray voltage issues.

In the realm of hog farming, a crucial yet often overlooked issue is the impact of stray voltage on the health and productivity of pigs. Understanding and effectively managing this source of stress is essential for ensuring an optimal environment for livestock.

Earlier this year, PrevTech Innovations acquired Agrivolt – experts in stray voltage and animal welfare – to strengthen our leadership in electrical safety for agriculture.

“It is important to understand the origin of the various sources of stray voltage in order to apply proper corrective measures,” said Marc Thibodeau, Manager, Agrivolt.

Stray voltage results from the presence of electricity in the structures within the animal’s environment. This can lead to discomfort or stress factors for pigs, particularly in confined areas where they cannot escape its effects. Over time, this stress can lead to behavioral and health problems that affect animal productivity and can diminish overall farm performance.

Identifying the sources and effects

Sources of stray voltage are diverse but can be separated into two main categories: on-farm sources and off-farm sources. On-farm sources can stem from worn-out equipment, damaged wiring, improper grounding methods or use of certain electrical equipment like variable speed drives and electric fences. Off-farm sources relate to the type of electric utility network feeding the farm, commonly being a grounded system.

Barns, with their metal structures and grids embedded in concrete, are unfortunately effective grounding areas that can attract and transmit stray currents toward animals. The levels will vary throughout the day depending on the electrical consumption of the farm and demand from neighbouring power users.

When addressing discomfort related to animal stress, it’s essential to consider a wide range of potential causes, like water quality, nutrition and employee training. Before considering stray voltage as a possible cause, producers are strongly recommended to work with their veterinarians, nutritionists, equipment vendors and electricians to rule out any other stress sources.

Education is key for producers

Education plays a critical role in understanding and managing stray voltage. Producers should have general knowledge of how stray voltage works, along with available solutions. Sharing knowledge on best practices for electrical system design and maintenance can significantly reduce stray voltage incidents on pig farms.

Dealing with stray voltage is not just about productivity; it’s about animal welfare. Understanding the causes and implementing effective mitigation strategies can create a safer and more comfortable environment for pigs. Taking proactive steps to address stray voltage is an integral part of modern, responsible pig farming. Monitoring systems are essential to ensuring electricity is not the weak link in your operation.

Carbon reduction helps pigs and planet

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By Laurence Nantel

Editor’s note: Laurence Nantel is Swine Nutrition Advisor, Trouw Nutrition. She can be contacted at ‘laurence.nantel@trouwnutrition.com.’

From field to farm to fork, quantifying carbon emissions across the pork value chain can be tricky. Technology makes it easier to track and target for reduction.

The Canadian pork industry cares about the environmental impact that comes with feeding its many global consumers. As consumers continue to demand healthier and more responsible agricultural practices, environmental concerns will inevitably define the future of food production.

This societal pressure has forced us to define a more durable agricultural strategy oriented toward carbon reduction. To achieve this objective, we first need to analyze the carbon life cycle of agricultural businesses. In doing so, it is possible to establish a benchmark to evaluate carbon intensity. Although it may seem difficult to quantify emissions, tools are available on the market to make it accurate and easy.

Measuring carbon footprint

Trouw Nutrition has long used Watson® software to help producers make day-to-day decisions about ration formulations, transport management, the use of feed additives or antibiotics, and more recently, sustainable development. This new sustainability component allows for the calculation of the ‘carbon budget’ of a farm and express it as kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent: a unit of comparison between emission sources, including methane and nitrous oxide.

With this technology, it is now possible to predict the quantity of environmental pollutants associated with the pork value chain, from crop production and feed milling, to feed intake and manure management, to transportation. Watson generates various reports showing the carbon dioxide equivalent of a farm, with a breakdown representing different parts of an operation. This allows producers to identify areas of focus to potentially reduce carbon intensity. Producers also have access to several scenarios in which they can identify the impacts of genetics, health status, management practices and energy inputs.

To assess carbon intensity, we must examine the business in detail, taking into account management practices, the feeding program and animal performance. For example, since feed contributes most to the carbon intensity of a farm, it is important to calculate the transport distance for each feed ingredient, from the field to the feed mill, and from the feed mill to the farm. A farm that produces its own crops for feed reduces its emissions associated with feed transportation. Manure management has the second-largest influence on emissions. Enteric fermentation – the process through which livestock digest feed – results in the formation of methane, released with manure.

Though agriculture in general has a smaller impact on emissions compared to some industries, carbon reduction still matters. When the goal is to reduce emissions, several interesting strategies can be implemented. For example, manure pits can be covered or more responsible energy use can be targeted.

Figure 1: Improving pig performance comes with environmental benefits.

With a Watson analysis, it is also possible to identify how improvements to swine performance can support the environment. In other words, improved feed efficiency can not only potentially increase margins but also decrease a farm’s ecological impact. More specifically, a five per cent improvement in feed conversion reduces the carbon intensity of a farm by three per cent (Figure 1).

By using carbon intensity as a practical measure to improve the overall performance of a farm, it is possible to achieve both economic and ecological sustainability. Watson’s assessment tool also enables the ranking of pork producers against other types of livestock producers from around the world.

Altogether, a product with a smaller carbon footprint is more appealing for the consumer and the market. As such, the future of pork production involves measuring ecological impacts to improve performance and public trust.

Mixing matters when grouping sows

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By Swine Innovation Porc

Editor’s note: This article is a project summary prepared for Swine Innovation Porc, as part of a series of articles covering SIP’s work. For more information, contact ‘info@swineinnovationporc.ca.’

As group sow housing becomes more common, understanding how to best manage the situation is vital knowledge for producers.

As group sow housing becomes more prevalent in Canadian pig production, understandings its unique dynamics is important. In such systems, proper management is key to minimizing stress for sows, thereby boosting sow reproductive performance and piglet development. Given the stakes for producers, scientists are working hard to find the best approach. 

As part of Swine Innovation Porc’s (SIP) Cluster 3 research activities, Jennifer Brown at the University of Saskatchewan explored the pros and cons of different group management systems, focused on dynamic versus static grouping and compared early and late mixing of sows. The University of Saskatchewan’s Yolande Seddon, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Nicolas Devillers and the Canadian Centre for Swine Improvement’s (CCSI) Brian Sullivan also contributed to this work. 

With the dynamic mixing approach, multiple breeding groups are housed together in each pen. As small groups of sows are moved out to be farrowed, new groups of recently mated sows join the pen. In static groups, each pen houses only one breeding group of sows. The animals are only mixed at the start of gestation, and no sows can be brought in for replacement if a sow is removed. The choice to implement dynamic or static housing can have big impacts for barn design. 

Mixing and mingling 

To assess options for group management of sows, the researchers used a variety of mixing times and grouping strategies in the barn. They also followed two of the groups to farrowing and examined the piglets to gauge the impact of pre-natal stress. To assess the piglets, the researchers looked at vitality scores, stress levels, behaviour at tail docking, growth rate and length of time for piglets to approach the udder.

Dynamic mixing is a popular choice for producers, allowing use of new technology and providing individual feeding for sows. But researchers are concerned that there is potential for more conflict, aggression and stress as groups of sows move in and out of the pen. When it comes to sows, there is ‘mixing aggression’ and ‘ongoing aggression.’ Researchers were concerned that ongoing aggression in dynamic groups would be a problem. What they found was that mixing aggression, which happens only once at the beginning of gestation, was reduced in dynamic groups because there were fewer new group members. At the same time, they found that ongoing aggression resulted in more lesions in dynamic groups throughout gestation, but it was not enough to impact their production. This suggests that mixing aggression is more important than ongoing aggression in terms of the impact on reproduction. 

Late mixing, after 28 days of gestation, is also largely favoured over early mixing, but this may not be sustainable in the long term for the industry, given incoming regulatory changes to sow spacing during gestation in Canada and the U.S. As a result, researchers are examining early mixing more closely as a viable option. 

Interestingly, this study found less aggression in dynamic systems over static ones, in which both were mixed early. In dynamic systems, aggression levels were low when each small group was added, compared to one large mixing event for the static housed sows, which occurred in early pregnancy. The production results were also surprising: dynamic sows had higher farrowing rates than static sows, and even over a control group of late mixed sows. 

The research suggests there is not a clear winner between static and dynamic mixing; both systems are popular and will continue to be so. They require very different approaches, so producers must be more aware of those differences to fine-tune management strategies.  

Climbing the social ladder 

Sow aggression in group settings has implications for performance and animal welfare, and can generate financial losses if left unchecked.

Another important factor influencing a sow’s reproductive performance during this study was social status within the pen. Researchers determined each sow’s rank within the group as dominant, intermediate or subordinate based on a feed competition test. A sow’s rank played a large role in setting their stress level, which, in turn, affected piglet behavior and physiology. The exact connection is not yet clear, but scientists hope to learn more as they review the data. 

As part of the project, the researchers also examined sow mortality. Using a survey and follow-up visits that covered 104 herds, they found higher mortality in herds with 3,000 or more sows, compared to smaller herds, and higher mortality in group gestation versus stalls. Scientists were especially concerned that the majority of deaths in group gestation involved younger sows. Apart from the animal welfare implications, early culling represents financial loss. Most producers can attest that sows with fewer than three parities don’t even cover their replacement cost. 

These mortality findings are critical for the industry going forward. The increase in lameness should spawn a greater focus on all aspects of gilt development, and genetics companies could prioritize conformation (functional legs and feet) and a calmer temperament that is less prone to aggression. Greater robustness traits would be beneficial as well, making sows more durable in group systems as they navigate concrete floors and interact with their pen mates. 

Addressing the mortality issue will take a combined effort from researchers and producers. Appropriate next steps for producers would include increased worker training and ensuring consistency in the use of mortality-related terminology – what constitutes ‘culled,’ ‘euthanized’ and ‘died on farm.’

As group sow housing continues to be more widely implemented across the industry, the more producers can learn about managing group gestation and limiting sow mortality, the better equipped they’ll be to face the future.