Kill sheets have long been considered a major source of data for pork producers, but relying on information from kill sheets in and of itself may be dangerous.

Some kill sheets contain information from only the current load, while you should look at long-term trends to fully utilize the information.

“Most producers can read kill sheets, but they look at them individually and concentrate on whether sort loss is out of hand,” says Mike Tokach, Kansas State University animal scientist. “I’d encourage producers to put information from kill sheets into a database, so they can look at net revenue out of a barn over time.”
Max Rodibaugh, a veterinarian with Swine Health Services in Frankfort, Ind., agrees, recommending producers keep a running, six-month summary of kill-sheet data. “This should provide enough insight into what’s working or not working on a farm to maximize profits. You need to factor in changes in rations, genetics and other variables that impact weights and carcass composition when studying trends.”

Looking at sort loss can be misleading, as sometimes it can actually be more profitable to sell pigs at heavier weights and take a little hit on sort loss, says Rodibaugh. “Some of our clients who rank lower vs. others in terms of premiums, may actually bring in more gross revenue per pig.”

Another challenge is that kill sheets vary widely in the information they contain and in how the information is presented.

“Each packer kill sheet is different due to markets they are trying to serve,” says Rodibaugh. “Some offer a tight window for hog weights that you need to hit, some have a high base price and not much of a premium, and others are just the opposite. My experience has been that you could lay five kill sheets from different packers side by side and each will be different.
How much producers study and understand kill sheets is a matter of some debate.

“I believe today’s producers are committed to the business and in general spend a lot of time analyzing different genetics and nutritional programs and evaluating cost/value relationships," says Gary Machan, head of procurement for IBP.

Still, there are concerns about how producers use the information on kill sheets, particularly with so many different ones in the market. Determining the differences between packer matrices and kill sheets can be a difficult obstacle, but not an insurmountable one.

“You need to understand how pigs fit into each individual packer’s matrix,” says Tokach. “It takes a little trial and error, as you compare and adjust to a new matrix.”

He emphasizes that you have to learn the matrix for each packer, and says that packers have pamphlets to help explain their matrix. University Extension personnel can help you understand packer matrices and some packers offer additional training as well.

For example, IBP buyers or company representatives do a lot of one-on-one training on kill sheets, says Machan. Producers should contact their local buyers for more information.

How to use the kill-sheet information as it pertains to delivering your hogs, also is up for debate. One school of thought is to determine which packers prefer heavy hogs and which prefer light ones. Then you can deliver fast-growing pigs to one plant and the slower ones to another. Of course, that’s not possible for every producer.

Machan believes you should work to tailor your hogs to fit a particular packer’s matrix. “Once the producer is comfortable with a packer they should spend some time trying to maximize profits by measuring the incremental value and costs generated by using different genetic lines or management options.”

An example of an IBP kill sheet is included in the sidebar. The sample kill sheet acknowledges the limitations in studying data from a single load of hogs by including year-to-date data along with information from the current load. Combining this information should help you maintain your own records or spreadsheets.

The IBP kill sheet also sorts some lean data and carcass characteristics into categories showing how you compare to other producers, allowing you to benchmark your production.

For example, the sheet tells what percentage of hogs were in the top 25 percent, upper-middle 25 percent, lower-middle 25 percent and lower 25 percent for percent lean.

The kill sheet even offers a snapshot of what you are missing economically, by showing the “lot lost opportunity” or dollar comparison at the bottom of the page on the right-hand side. This feature shows how much more you would receive if your yield or grade premium were in the top 25 percent or the top 5 percent, for example.

Ultimately, how you use kill-sheet data is in your hands. Using it to experiment with different genetic lines, determine which packer maximizes profits for your management system or how to maximize the sale price from your packer are options you could take. Paying little attention to what you find on the kill sheets, or remaining unclear about what you see could put you out of the race.