With tight profit margins, it’s more important than ever to look at the little things as well as the big things, says Jeff DeMint with the Bern-Sabetha Veterinary Clinic in Sabetha, Kansas.

DeMint spoke recently at the 2013 Swine Profitability Conference in Manhattan, Kan., where he focused on five components that may improve your profit potential.

    1.   Nutrition

      “Most producers are well-educated in feeding pigs, but because of the relative expense of feed, it also has the greatest opportunity to return the largest savings with the smallest percent change in costs,” says DeMint. “Each feed-conversion point on the graph below is worth about $0.46 per pig at an average feed cost of $350/ton.

      He suggests producers consider alternative feed sources, including distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS), wheat midds or other available feed grains. Most importantly, avoid a “do-it-yourself” approach that can cost valuable time and money. The instruction and guidance of a trained nutritionist will pay dividends in the long run, says DeMint.

      Don’t forget particle size, he adds. “For every 100-in micron particle size, expect a reduction in feed efficiency of 1.3 percent, which equates to about $1.35 with today’s prices. Fine-grinding the entire diet is detrimental to performance and carcass characteristics when fed in meal form, but those factors were improved when feed was pelleted.

      Pre-slaughter feed withdrawal is another management tool. Prior to close-out, put gates in front of feeders while still allowing pigs to access water. “If you shut off feed to pens or to the whole barn, you should watch out for ulcers and/or hemorrhagic bowel syndrome,” says DeMint.

        2.  Immunological castration

          Improvest® (gonadotropin releasing factor analog – diphtheria toxoid conjugate) is a protein compound that is an FDA-approved immunological castration product that reduces boar taint/unpleasant odors. It uses the pig’s own immune system to temporarily provide the same effect as surgical castration, but much later in the pig’s life.

          “It has a flexible but strict procedure, and producers should consider its use as a way to potentially lower pig mortality and castration complications, like infections and hernias, and improve feed efficiency” says DeMint.

          With feed costs being a major challenge, DeMint feels the product should be considered. He cites product literature that suggests the benefits of an Improvest regime can be:

          • 6-10 percent increase in feed efficiency
          •  4.2 percent increase in average daily gain
          • Up to 2.5 percent increase in cutout yield
          • 1.6 percent decrease in mortality

          Admittedly, DeMint says there can be problems if the product is administered incorrectly. “Two weeks after the second injection is given, pigs need to have a quality assurance exam to identify any pigs that still look or act like a boar to ensure the pigs are market time will not have an off odor [boar taint] caused by the chemicals androstenone and skatole,” says DeMint.

          “With new technology, there is a learning curve with the correct timing of injections, feed requirements with increased lysine, stocking of buildings and packer/consumer acceptance,” he continues. “Even though FDA says the product is efficacious and safe, and pork quality is consistent with the same high quality pork we enjoy today, meat packers have been slow in accepting Improvest-injected pigs.”

          DeMint stresses that trained technicians should administer the product because of the potential risks. “These people need to know how to work with pigs and understand safety measures, and we need to consider consumer feedback, both positive and negative,” he points out. “Still, with the increase in feed costs, I would expect the benefit of using Improvest to be close to $7 to $7.50 per pig in today’s market.”

            3.   Bio-Security

              Most biosecurity threats come from disease agents in other pigs, such as breeding stock additions, neighboring livestock sites and pigs that are transported by or near your swine facility, says DeMint. Some diseases can be carried on people or equipment and others, like influenza, can be directly transmitted from people to pigs.

              “Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) is by far the major biosecurity threat to pork operations,” notes DeMint. “It has been estimated that PRRS has an annual cost to the U.S. swine industry of $664 million, or about $6 per pig marketed. By practicing correct biosecurity measures for PRRS, we can help prevent the introduction or spread of other diseases in swine herds.”

              DeMint suggests several biosecurity protocols for preventing the spread of PRRS, based on a paper by Andrea Pitkin with the Swine Disease Eradication Center at the University of Minnesota (see below).

                4.   Vaccination and Management Protocol

                  “A significant amount of money is used to raise pigs in a healthy and appropriate manner,” says DeMint. “These fixed costs are usually listed in a standard operating procedure known as a vaccination and management protocol.

                  “I believe many swine operations continue to add procedures and vaccinations that may not be necessary, but do them anyway because ‘that’s the way we have always done it,’” he continues. “I recommend you review your protocols at least annually, or every time a significant health challenge occurs in your herd. It seems that on some farms, we change protocols every few months, including the addition, removal or timing of vaccinations and medications as health changes occur.”

                  One standard protocol the DeMint recommends in vaccination for circovirus. “I’m often asked, ‘Will I see an advantage in vaccinating pigs that do not show any signs of disease associated with circovirus?’” says DeMint, “and my answer is ‘yes.’ There is a clear return on investment from the circovirus vaccine, as explained by John Waddell, DVM, at the 2009 World Pork Expo. He found a 5:1 return related to using the vaccine on sub-clinical pigs.”

                    5.   Gilt Pool Management

                      DeMint believes the profitability of a swine operation is largely dependent on how well the gilt pool is managed. “An active gilt pool of animals between 200 and 300 lbs. will make up 12 to 15 percent of the target herd size,” he says. “A well-managed gilt pool will allow about 25 percent of the breeding group’s target to be met with bred gilts. Keeping the farrowing crates full (on farrowing targets) is perhaps the most important factor in a sow farm’s profitability.”

                      To achieve a well-managed gilt pool, DeMint suggests you:

                      • Choose the correct genetic supplier with a good health status and an adequate number of females
                      • Isolate new breeding stock to prevent disease transmission to the existing breeding herd, and monitor for disease outbreaks
                      • Acclimate new breeding stock through exposure or vaccination to assure the replacement animal’s immune system is similar to that of the existing herd (for in-herd replacements, make sure vaccinations and disease exposure is completed in the growing phase, prior to boar exposure)
                      • Start boar exposure when gilts are 135 to 150 days of age, with 20 minutes of direct contact one to two times a day (morning exposure will have the most influence)
                      • Give gilts 12 to 15 sq. ft. of pen space, with three to 50 animals per group
                      • Keep temperatures between 45 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit – reproductive heat stress starts above 80 degrees
                      • Provide at least 10 hours of light
                      • Breed at 300 lbs. and 7.5 to 9 months of age with at least one skipped heat

                      “People can raise pigs as poorly as their equity will allow,” says DeMint. “You can raise pigs however you like, but if things start going bad, remember the rules and go back to the basics we’ve talked about.”

                      Reduce the Risk of PRRSV Entry

                      Following are examples of protocols to reduce the risk of PRRSV entry to farms via the introduction of genetic material: 


                      • Facilities should be located greater than 120 meters from the breeding herd and ideally, off­site
                      •  Incoming stock should be kept separate from resident stock for a minimum of 30 days
                      • Animals should be monitored daily for clinical signs by farm personnel
                      • The herd veterinarian should remain in close communication with the seedstock supplier’s veterinarian during this period in case the onset of a disease is suspected in the source population or the animals in quarantine


                      • Replacement stock should be blood tested 24­48 hours after arrival to the isolation facility as well as 5­7 days prior to their entry to the breeding herd
                      •  Once infected, PRRSV RNA can be detected in the bloodstream 24 hours post­infection; therefore, testing of samples by PCR is recommended to enhance detection of peracute infections.
                      • With the advent of the blood swab technique, AI centers can proactively monitor their status via PCR testing of blood from boars being collected that day, along with the regular testing of semen, again by PCR.

                      Indirect routes

                      • Facilities should be managed using all­in, all­out (AIAO) pig flow, thereby reducing the spread of PRRSV from older, infected pigs to younger, naïve animals
                      • Properly sanitize facilities before introducing susceptible animals
                      •  Change needles between sows during third trimester injections or utilize “needle-free” technology 
                      • Clean and disinfect transport vehicles, including drying
                      • Make sure personnel use proper procedures for washing hands, using gloves and changing coveralls and boots


                      • All incoming supplies should be disinfected and allowed a minimum of two hours contact time prior to introduction
                      • “Double bagging” supplies is an acceptable method for reducing the risk of spread
                      • A specific room should be used as a disinfection and drying room for fomites (D&D room)


                      • All inlets, windows and areas that could be accessed by insects should be covered with screens In order to maintain proper ventilation
                      • Pyrethrin­based insecticides are highly effective and are commercially available as premises sprays or washes
                      • Insect bait is an effective means to control the number of insects

                      Site management 

                      • Cut grass and remove weeds surrounding swine facilities
                      • Remove standing water to eliminate insect breeding areas


                      • Filtration systems utilize MERV 16 (95% DOP @ > 0.3 microns) filters and results have been encouraging; installation of an air filtration system depends upon a producer’s budget, location of the site, the level of acceptable risk and type of production system, i.e. seedstock or commercial.


                      • Pig meat: Meat from infected pigs can harbor PRRSV for at least seven days at 4 degrees C and for months when frozen at ­20 degrees C
                      • Lagoon effluent: PRRSV can survive in lagoon effluent for up to 3 days at 20 degrees C and for seven days at 4 degrees C.
                      • Carcass disposal: Incineration is an effective means of disposing of PRRSV­positive carcasses