As we approach the 21st century, every business is looking for ways to generate more accurate information, and pork production is no different. Fortunately, various modeling programs are available today to aid in your production and decision-making process.

Simply put, a modeling program is a mathematical representation of reality. The computer program takes a set of basic input data and processes it through a series of calculations in an attempt to explain or predict the outcome.

The programs offer you "what-if" scenarios using spreadsheet style programs. This means you can easily see the effects of how changing one value will impact other aspects in your operation. For example if you added one pig per litter, you could see how that affects your production costs or pig flow or manure management system.

"Modeling programs give you information to help make decisions," says Tom Baas, Iowa State University swine specialist.

Of course, using modeling programs does not guarantee perfect results. "First, you must have accurate production and financial records," says Dale Ricker, swine extension associate at Ohio State University. "Once you have the basic data you can use modeling to go back and look at different scenarios."

"If you don't have accurate records to provide input details, it will be difficult to tell if any of the results will be applicable to your operation," says Baas.

Assuming your records are in order, modeling programs or spreadsheets can be helpful in nearly every aspect of your operation, from nutrition to marketing to breeding herd reproduction.

"If a producer is considering making business decisions, he or she needs to look at the potential impact that any decision will have on the bottom line," says Baas. "So, modeling or spreadsheet programs that look at potential impact of a management input or a change in technology are valuable tools."

Modeling programs may be more common in the future, according to Ricker. Most producers use some kind of on-farm recordkeeping software today. Some modeling programs allow users to import data from their recordkeeping software. Ricker believes more alliances and cooperation between software programs will lead to a rise in the use of modeling programs.

Marketing and feed costs are two areas where modeling programs can be helpful. "These programs can tell you that an extra $1 per hundredweight is going to mean X amount of dollars, but you still have to work to achieve it," says Ricker.

When using these programs it is important to remember that the information used can change at any time. "A modeling program is basically a snapshot in time," says Ricker. "But it's a way of prioritizing where you can get the most bang for your buck."

Modeling also provides a way to identify trouble spots, say in light of rising feed grain costs or declining hog prices. These programs also can work to soothe anxious lenders, by outlining to them the various options that you can consider in making on-farm adjustments.

One example of this is the fluctuation in feed costs that relate to corn and soybean meal prices. Naturally, any changes in those markets will change your bottom line. A modeling program will let you play with the numbers to set up scenarios and strategies to address feed grain price changes. You can use the information to re-prioritize.

Because modeling programs have limitations, especially when it comes to long-term cash flow situations, Ricker cautions about using them to determine expansion plans or for changing the type of operation – going from farrow-to-finish to selling segregated early weaning pigs, for example.

Awide variety of modeling programs and spreadsheets are available through university extension software services. For more information talk to your local extension agent, the extension swine specialist at a land-grant university or other production or business consultants.

Producers running large operations are more likely to see greater benefit from modeling programs, because it is more difficult to measure cause-and-effect impacts in a 1,000-sow operation than it is in a 100-sow operation.

There aren't many situations where modeling won't work, providing you realize it does have limitations, says Ricker. Most programs are user-friendly.

Using these programs to monitor various production traits is not an anomaly. In fact, most every university or extension service is working on some kind of project. While it would be impossible to cover them all, Pork magazine will review several of the programs in future issues.

Modeling programs may not make your operation automatically more productive. But they can provide information that can lead to improved productivity and long term profitibility.

Putting a Price on Information

After all the information you've heard about modeling programs, you probably still have some questions, like: "How much will it cost?"
Of course, the answer varies widely, depending on the program. Dale Ricker, swine extension associate at Ohio State University believes the information you can get from a good modeling program will be useful enough to justify spending the money.

Here is some information on programs available through the Iowa State University extension software service. Other programs are available through other universities and software suppliers.

If you're considering using a modeling or spreadsheet program but still have questions, ask your extension agent, university swine specialist or other consultant.

Swine worksheets
These are not exactly modeling programs, they're more of a spreadsheet, but they can be used in planning.

These worksheets require you to have Lotus 1.2.3 5.0 or higher or Microsoft Excel 5.0 or higher.

  • Sow Productivity Index. This uses the National Swine Improvement Federation's recommended procedures to factor in the number of live pigs farrowed per litter and 21-day weight to measure sow productivity.
  • Swine Breeding and Farrowing Schedule. This helps determine breeding and farrowing schedules for all-in/all-out pig flow.
  • Swine Diet Analysis and Relative Value. Determines the relative value of feed ingredients based upon the prices of those ingredients.
  • Hog Market Calculator. Helps you make short-term hog marketing decisions.
  • Feeder Pig Finishing Budget and Profit Planner. Estimates cost of production, breakeven selling price and profit potential for a group of feeder pigs.
  • Farrow-to-Finish Enterprise Analysis and Budget. Estimates production cost, breakeven selling price and profit potential.
  • Feeder-Pig Production Enterprise Analysis and Budget. Estimates production cost, profit potential and breakeven selling price.

Swine Monitoring program
This is a true computerized modeling program.

The Swine Monitoring program is Windows-based software that measures the current average pig weight, average daily gain, feed cost per pound of gain, total cost per pound of gain, 21-day future performance projection and current breakeven values. It itemizes and summarizes costs and income. It also summarizes pen closeouts, feed consumption, health and marketing status.

These spreadsheets or modeling programs can be purchased under the following price system, by contacting the Iowa State University extension software services at (515) 294-8658, or e-mailing your request to compstaff@exnet.iastate.edu.

PROGRAM Single worksheet $25 (in Iowa) $30 (out of state)
Worksheet series $125 (in Iowa) $150 (out of state)
Swine Monitoring program $425* (in Iowa) $525 (out of state)

*Cost is $375 for members of the Iowa Pork Producers Association