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Benchmarking Sow Lifetime Productivity
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This measure more accurately describes the ultimate goal for producers.
By Ken Stalder, Linda Engblom, and John Mabry
The pork industry is becoming more interested in the length of time that sows remain productive within commercial operations. The interest in this trait is largely the result of the very tight economic situation that virtually all pork producers are currently experiencing throughout the
world. Furthermore, the general public is becoming more concerned with the activities associated with the production of the meat they consume and animal well-being on the operations that produce this food. Furthermore, producers benefit when sows remain productive for a longer period of time in their breeding herds.
     Because the costs can be spread across a greater number of piglets, producers are financially rewarded for having sows with an improved productive lifetime. The contrary is also true. If a particular producer is struggling with high replacement rate and he/she has a very high percentage of sows that do not remain in the herd long enough to pay for themselves, the producer is losing money. This type of situation slowly eats away at an operation’s equity until it is in financial trouble.
    Typically, pork producers have used average parity at culling as an indicator of how their herd was doing from a sow longevity viewpoint. Of course, sow longevity is the length of time that a sow remains in
the breeding herd. Examining the average parity at culling as a benchmark to see how we are doing as a commercial pork industry is
informative. Table 1 shows the average removal parity from 1996 through 2004. These results are based on 515,194 sows removed from 132
farms during the period 1996 to 2007. To give the sows a possibility to show their real lifespan, only sows with their first farrowing between 1996 and 2004 were included. The average removal parity peaked at just over 5 parities in 1998 and has been on a slow, steady decline to just over 4 parities through the end of the reported data in 2004.
     Not only should producers examine removal parity as a measure of sow longevity, but length of productive life or sow productive lifetime more accurately describes the ultimate goal for producers, so long as non-productive days do not increase above acceptable levels. Length of
productive life more accurately describes the trait that pork producers are concerned with. This is the indication of how long individual sows remain productive (farrow a litter of pigs, lactate for ~ 21 days, return to estrus, successfully conceive, complete gestation, and finally
farrow again).
     How long sows remain productive can be measured in days of age from birth to culling, herd-life from entry into the herd through culling, number of successful parities completed, etc. The entire goal of this period is to produce as many pigs born alive and then as many standard pigs (i.e. full value pigs) at weaning as possible. This allows the initial cost of the replacement gilt and associated development expenses to be spread across a greater number of piglets produced during the sow’s lifetime.

MEASURING EFFICIENCY
There are numerous ways to measure the efficiency of the breeding herd. Many operations focus on litters per sow per year and pigs per sow per year. These values tell producers nothing about the lifetime productivity of an individual sow or on a herd-level basis. When all is said and
done, the number of full-value lifetime pigs born alive, and lifetime number of full-value pigs weaned, combined with the price received for the pigs, determines whether the purchase of individual sows is a profitable decision.

TABLE 1. Average sow productive lifetime calculated on herd level (N=132) from u.S. pork producers participating in the Datashare program with PigCHAMP.1
Study Average Min Max 25% superior 10% superior
Herdlife, days 579 279 982 641 727
Removal parity 4.5 2.7 7.1 5.0 5.5
Total piglets born 51.8 28.5 79.0 57.1 62.6
Total piglets born alive 46.4 25.4 71.4 51.6 56.4
Number of piglets weaned 40.6 40.6 64.1 45.2 49.3

ACROSS-THE-BOARD
The different measures for productive lifetime can differ substantially within and across pork operations. Table 1 shows the variability for a number of sow productive lifetime traits. Because the actual age of the replacement gilt is often not known or recorded, the number of herd
days is defined as the number of days from first farrowing to the removal event. The average herd life was 579 days and ranged from a low of 279 to a high of 982. Assuming that gilts farrow at a year of age, you could add 365 days to these numbers to estimate the true age
at culling. The average removal parity within this same data set was 4.5 and ranged between a low of 2.7 and a high of 7.1. When looking at how the top herds perform, the top 25% of herds average 641 days from first farrowing to removal and have an average parity at removal
of 5. Similarly, the top 10% of herds average 727 days from first
 
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