Management is key to a productive, profitable and humane pork production business, and some of those traits will be put to the test in the years ahead as feed and other input prices rise. Technology has and will continue to change the way hogs are raised, as well as who raises them.

Whether the technology involves a feed delivery system or a vaccine delivery system, the technology in place today has not only allowed you to raise more hogs on one site, but also to raise hogs on more than one site.

One such example is the evolution of electronic recordkeeping, which has made it easier to track the progression of large groups of hogs. 

“Our first Industry Structure Study was in 1973. Our largest producer size group was 5,000+ head marketed annually,” notes Glenn Grimes, University of Missouri agricultural economist. “Consolidation was a combination of opportunity and competition as we adopted technology, started increasing hog numbers and started lowering production costs.”

In 1987, my first Industry Structure Study revealed a new phenomenon — multiple-site production. Finding producers with experience in the practice was a tough assignment. Farrow-to-finish operations were the long-running standard; today, they are a phenomenon. Production firms are made up of any combination of business arrangements, including farrowing co-ops, contracting, wean-to-finish sites and much more. That’s not to mention the vast array of ownership and management structures.

Just try to define a “typical” pork producer or pork production system in 2007 — now that’s a tough assignment.

For the past 30 years, the Pork Industry Structure Study has worked to define the pork industry’s composition. Every three years, Grimes and various colleagues have tackled the survey. Pork magazine has been involved for the past 20 years. The June issue provided the first look at this year’s study; this issue completes the report. Yet there is much more to dig through and absorb. You can delve into it further at www.porkmag.com.

For now, here’s a glimpse at some of the production-related practices:

  • It’s worth noting that the various production size groups (1,000 to 49,999, 50,000 to 499,999 and 500,000+ hogs marketed annually) revealed more similarities in terms of how they raised hogs than they have in past surveys.
  • Fifty-four percent of all hogs ate feed that  producers prepared themselves. In the 1,000-to-49,999 group, 66 percent of the hogs ate prepared feed; it dropped to 25 percent for the 50,000-to-499,999 group and swung back to 63 percent for the 500,000+ producers.
  • Producers in the 50,000-to-499,999 category were the anomaly in terms of securing breeding stock; 70 percent said they purchased replacement gilts. Meanwhile, only 16 percent of the largest producer group bought gilts, as did 27 percent of the 1,000-to-49,999 group.
  • It’s no surprise that 94 percent of all hogs were raised indoors. The range was 60 percent for producers in the 1,000-to-2,999 group to 100 percent of the 500,000+ producers.
  • Sixty-four percent of all hogs were fed according to their sex. For the 1,000-to-49,999 producer category, 44 percent used split-sex feeding. Split-sex feeding increased to 71 percent for the 500,000+ group and 74 percent for producers marketing 50,000 to 499,999 hogs.
  • The use of wean-to-finish facilities followed operation size. Only 16 percent of producers in the under-50,000 group used this production system, 31 percent of the 500,000+ producers did, and 44 percent of the 50,000-to-499,999 category. In the end, 29 percent of all hogs were raised in wean-to-finish systems.
  • After making significant gains in the 1990s and early 2000s, the use of artificial insemination has leveled off since 2003. Producers raising 1,000 to 2,999 hogs a year had the fewest litters — 22 percent — that originated from AI in 2006. For producers marketing 3,000 to 49,999 hogs, 79 percent of their litters were sired via AI. The 50,000-to-499,999 category produced 98 percent of their litters from AI matings, and all of the litters from the largest producers originated that way.
  • Eighty-six percent of the litters from the largest producers were produced from boar semen collected on site. For producers raising fewer than 500,000 hogs, the litters involved ranged from 11 percent to 26 percent.
  • Since they could choose more than one option, it’s worth noting that 11 percent of the 1,000-to-49,999 producer category owned part of a boar stud, as did 23 percent of the 50,000-to-499,999 group and 14 percent of the 500,000+ producers.
  • Finally, operations that finish Canadian-born pigs ranged from 4 percent to 16 percent, with the smallest and largest production units finishing out the least (4 percent and 5 percent respectively). The two groups that finished out the most Canadian hogs were producers marketing 5,000 to 9,999 hogs (15 percent) and 10,000 to 49,999 hogs (16 percent).

While the Pork Industry Structure Study is put to rest for another time, there’s no question that production systems will continue to evolve, and technology will send producers in new directions. The question is, where might it lead?