In a perfect world all your pigs would grow at the same rate and you could market your entire barn or room of pigs at the same time. But, tail-enders are a reality for every operation and their delayed growth costs you time and space in the finisher or you pay the price in sort loss.
"The impact of tail-enders is lost revenue," says Mike Brumm, University of Nebraska swine specialist. "Nobody can really say how long you should hold onto tail-enders before you're better off to just dump them and take a hit."
Because of the sort loss on tail-enders some people question how close you can come in the real world to emptying a whole barn at once.
Single-day marketing may be too much to ask for, but some producers are starting to look at narrowing their marketing window, even if that means "dumping" some of the slower growing pigs before they're quite ready. This strategy also ensures that the fast-growing hogs are sold before they start putting on fat.
Tom Fangman, University of Missouri swine veterinarian, says it's a stretch to market all your pigs in one day, but that marketing a whole building over the course of a week could be possible. "As long as feed costs stay low and you can justify feeding to higher weights, you might be able to push the top pigs a little heavier, marketing them on Monday, and sell the tail-enders at the end of the week," says Fangman. Of course, this is dependent on your herd's genetic ability to remain lean at heavier market weights.
Removing the faster growing pigs would give the tail-enders more space and less competition for feed, which should increase feed intake in that final week. Your goal of course, is to avoid taking too much of a discount on the last pigs marketed.
Fangman suggests this one-week strategy might work best if you have an alternative economical finishing facility. For example, if you have access to a hoop-building finisher you can keep the tail-enders a little longer and aoid taking a hit on facility costs. The fear of implementing this type of system is that the hoop barn will become a continuous-flow system and may predispose the pigs to increasing pathogens over time.
"If you want to dump barns, you need to have an alternative way to market 5 percent of the pigs," says Brumm. "Everyone always has lightweights and you need to decide if you will hold them in an old shed, send them to market all at once and take the loss, or do something else."
That "something else" may be finding a packer that prefers lighter-weight pigs, and whose buying matrix works for you. The wrong fit could have disastrous results, notes Brumm.
John Deen, veterinarian and director of the University of Minnesota's Swine Center, says that in some packer matrices, dumping barns can cost you $40 to $50 per lightweight pig, because some packers simply don't want lightweight hogs.
There are several other management considerations to narrowing your marketing window.
"If the farm objective is to market hogs within a week, the process has to start in the farrowing house," says Fangman. "You have to set up your sow herd, so that the pig flow allows for that marketing plan."
Facility environmental controls, feed availability and pig density also become more important when your marketing window is tight, says Deen. Temperature and climate fluctuations common in the Midwest also can cause pathogen and disease challenges to pop up.
"You need to have very good environmental management," Fangman agrees. "Any pathogen expression will spread out growth rates, which in turn will cause weight ranges to spread, leading to more lightweight discounts."
Controlling respiratory and enteric diseases in the nursery and grow/finish stages takes on greater significance as well. "The biggest characteristic you will need to shrink your marketing window is a high-health herd," says Deen.
Theoretically, emptying the barn quicker would allow it to sit empty longer to help reduce any pathogens. Of course, the temptation to increase overall output may be too much to ignore. Fangman offers a word of warning, pushing pig flow too tightly can cause severe backups if the herd does run into pathogen challenges.
One-week marketing is certainly not for everyone – especially if your packer options are limited. You may find that transportation to a favorable packer is too great a cost to overcome.
For other producers, you may actually reduce transportation costs with a smaller marketing window. But, Deen points out, if your trucking is coordinated so that you're already hauling full loads, dumping the barns may have little effect on your transportation costs.
"The biggest advantage to this marketing system is faster turnaround on your farm," says Deen. Every space has gain every day, so every space has revenue every day, adds Brumm.
With the prospect of disease challenges, and tighter packer matrices, the time may never come for you to empty a barn in one day. Still, with the facility cost of tail-enders, it's worth watching future research and developments.
"Emptying whole barns at once sounds good in theory, but it would have to be incredibly well-managed," says Fangman. "The only way I could see it working is if you have a place to finish feeding the tail-enders."