Vietnam may not come to mind as a pork production tiger, but it currently ranks fourth worldwide, with 4 million sows. Of course, pork is a favorite meat as most Vietnamese prefer a bowl of pork and noodles for breakfast versus, say, Cheerios.

The industry has many large, intensive units at one end of the spectrum and vast numbers of small, backyard operators at the other. The small farms make up about 30 percent of total hog farms, and it’s a headache for government authorities to monitor should a major disease break out. That was the case in 2007 when sow numbers dropped 40 percent nationally due to porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome — a disease challenge that remains today. 

Several large Asian integrators such as Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Foods Plc, or CPF, have become established in Vietnam. CPF started in 1921 and is now truly international, and it is likely the world’s biggest animal-feed compounder. CPF has its own training farm, where local Vietnamese pig farmers can be taught modern production techniques and skills.

JAPFA is another big integrator, ranking second behind CPF. It started operations with government assistance in North Vietnam but now is independent and has a presence south of Ho Chi Minh City. The company has swine and poultry operations, a slaughter plant and milling equipment. Many of the raw feed materials are sourced locally, although corn, soybean meal and distillers’ dried grains with solubles are imported from the United States.

The integrators are seen as a threat to the small, family-run operations because, by nature of the business, they are better able to withstand the hog cycle’s swings.

Chung Kim is the director of Kim Long Livestock Producers and Feed Processing Company, which has 1,050 sows in Binh Duong Province. It’s a private company, as are many in Vietnam, despite the fact that it’s still a communist country. In fact, most farms are still government owned. To further complicate matters, there are many joint ventures operating today as well.

Kim is a passionate supporter of small farms and has created a pig farmers’ association to lobby the government and the banks. “The government claims that farmers can get credit from the banks, but the banks won’t lend,” he explains. “Our association has more power than an individual farmer, which we can use to get the banks to lend.”

With regard to his unit, Kim weans pigs weekly at 28 days old, weighing 7.5 kg. His pigs-born-alive number averages 11, and total pigs per sow per year is 22. Post-weaning, pigs reach 25 kg at 65 days and slaughter weight (95 kg) at 165 days. His feed-conversion rate from weaning to slaughter is 2.7:1.

He uses an extensive cross-breeding program involving Landrace, Yorkshire, Peitrain and Duroc genetics.

Kim has had to tough it out — prior to 2006, he lost U.S. $1 million, but his pigs are now back in profitability.

Bac Ninh City, to the north of Vietnam, is the location of a 3,000-sow unit owned by the Dabaco Vietnam Corp. (also known as Dabaco Pig Raising Investment & Development Co.). Director Le Quoc Doan farrows 150 litters a week and weans pigs at 3 weeks, weighing 6.5 kg. The born-alive numbers are a problem on the farm, which produces 20 pigs per sow per year. He markets hogs at 100

kg liveweight, with a wean-to-slaughter feed-conversion rate of 2.65:1, which is considered sub par. Still, the unit is increasing to 5,000 sows.

Yorkshire, Landrace and Duroc genetics are imported from the United States and Canada. Le Quoc Doan breeds his own York/Landrace F1 females which are artificially inseminated with Duroc semen, producing market hogs that are 50 percent Duroc.

Le Van Nhi is the director of the 1,500-sow Mitraco Breeding Joint-Stock Company, situated in Ha Trinh Province in mid-Vietnam. His farm also weans at 3 weeks, has 8 percent pre-weaning mortality and is producing 23 hogs per sow per year. The breeding program is set up to inseminate each sow three times — at 9 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and again at 9 a.m. the next morning. Pigs are marketed at 100 kg, with a wean-to-slaughter feed-conversion rate at 2.45:1. Post-weaning mortality is just 2 percent, and the unit uses   PigChamp software for recording data. 

The Mitraco farm is situated in a low-pig-density area and has a high health status. Breeding stock (great-grandparents) is brought in from Thailand and, as with the other farms, is used to breed a Yorkshire/Landrace F1 female. Duroc and Pietrain semen is used to produce market hogs.

Biogas is used to generate electricity, with the plant generating 108 kilowatts per hour in an eight-hour day.

The farm is set to double its size in 2011. Labor is plentiful, and capital will be raised through public investment as Mitraco is a joint-stock company.

Overall, PRRS is a big problem in Vietnam — a recent epidemic cost the industry more than U.S. $1 million in just one northern province alone, Hai Duong. In early May, PRRS had spread to 12 provinces, mainly in North Vietnam, but central Vietnam also was affected. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 50,000 pigs had been infected. Farmers are being told to improve biosecurity and are using lime as a disinfectant in their buildings. Because of PRRS’ effects on pig performance — increased mortality, reduced average daily gain and feed conversion, along with treatment costs — many small family farmers sold off their hogs while they were still healthy. Other farmers are facing increased feed prices and won’t restock until that improves. The disease break has some consumers switching to beef, and pork prices have weakened.

According to Nguyenhoang Vu, technical manager for Olmix Vietnam, “The large commercial operations routinely vaccinate against PRRS, with many vaccines being commercially available. The backyard producers see vaccination as an extra cost, which they can ill afford. The government doesn’t subsidize PPRS vaccination, whereas it does for hog cholera and foot-and-mouth disease.”

In the end, the big Vietnamese operators will continue to expand, at the expense of the backyard producers. This will be good for Vietnam’s industry in the future, as the big units have better management, health and biosecurity policies. Hence, disease outbreaks should decline over time. If the expansion plans outlined here are typical of the country’s broader industry, then Vietnam could soon move into third place in world pork production.