Every pork operation deals with hog deaths, culling challenges and lightweight pigs.

Now, a new way of looking at these problems, collectively termed as “attrition”, can help reduce the negative impact that they have on your operation.

Still a relatively new concept, attrition refers to pigs that fall outside of desired production and marketing parameters. Financially, attrition takes into account the revenue losses associated with deads (mortality), culls (pigs not sold to the primary market) and lightweights (those sold below a packer’s full-value weight range.)

To understand attrition’s cost, you need to understand “opportunity costs.”

John Deen, University of Minnesota swine veterinary researcher, estimates the swine industry can lose up to $1.2 billion annually from attrition. He says much of this cost relates to huge inefficiencies, where 30 percent to 35 percent of pigs born never make it to an acceptable market weight. This translates to an attrition cost of about $10 to $12 per head in the grow/finish phase.

He believes attrition should be viewed as an “opportunity for improvement. It should be measured. It’s causes should be pinpointed, and the most appropriate intervention strategies implemented. This is critical if the industry wants to focus on increasing the value of its outputs.”

The search for attrition should include all phases. “We have to identify criteria for pigs to move on to the next stage,” he says.

When analyzing overall attrition from farrowing through finishing, he contends it’s important to understand that attrition can reach 35 percent when stillbirths and mummies are included—or it could be 27 percent to 30 percent if they’re not included.

While eliminating attrition is not practical, he says you should strive to establish key attrition benchmarks.

Because disease is widely understood as the primary cause of attrition, Deen says data from production, financial, herd health and packer records can be helpful in quantifying attrition within an operation.

“How many businesses do you think would accept 30 percent attrition,” Deen asks. The pork production industry seems to be leaving a lot on the table.