Every operation has them, and they all cost money. Tailenders are a negative part of pork production. The National Pork Producers Council estimates lightweight pigs cost the industry $47.1 million a year.
But you can take steps to limit the number of tailenders and the impact they have on your profitability.
Start before the pigs are even born, suggests Oliver Duran, a veterinarian and assistant professor at Michigan State University. Duran offers the following advice.
- Make sure females are in optimal body condition at farrowing. That helps ensure rapid, trouble-free farrowing. Then provide plenty of feed and water during lactation to maximize milk yield and piglet growth.
- Creep feed and milk replacers are nutritional boosts that can help keep piglets more uniform. “Milk replacers, in addition to sow’s milk, can reduce weight variation and increase weaning weight in piglets weaned before 21 days,” Duran says.
- Water availability and the pigs’ creep environment are keys to maintaining piglet health. Avoid exposing young pigs to manure or excessive drafts.
- Promptly diagnose and treat diseases. Cull nonviable pigs and chronically infected pigs to limit transmission of illnesses to littermates, recommends Duran.
He offers seven principles to follow when dealing with lightweight pigs:
Recognize the potential for problems. Record average litter weaning weights and the number of pigs that weigh less than 9 pounds. Continue comparing performance to establish benchmarks or targets.
Use a herd approach to analyze the problem, but apply individual care to resolve and prevent episodes.
Hire people with solid husbandry skills who take pride in their work and pay attention to details.
Disease influences weight variability. Perform routine herd health checks and use targeted diagnostic investigations.
Rapid detection and treatment of diseased or injured pigs is critical. Cull humanely when necessary.
Recognize the effect genotype plays on growth potential, especially when you establish target weaning weights at fixed ages.
Realize problems are seldom simple. They often result from a combination of disease, nutrition, management and stockmanship.
“Normal biological differences in body weight at birth become heightened from weaning to slaughter, particularly in all-in/all-out production,” Oliver says. “That may lead to variation in weight gains during the growing phase.”
By leveling out those variations, you can reduce the impact of lightweight pigs on your profits.