Increased culling of swine herds is a strategy more producers are opting for when facing record-level feed costs as the 2012 drought continues to ravage the nation’s corn and soybean crops.

“Culling is an area all producers need to take a look at,” says John Weber, Dysart, Iowa, wean-to-finish producer. “Criteria for culling may need to be expanded to new levels.”

Facing $8 per bushel corn and soybean meal around $550 per ton, Weber scrutinizes his stock closely and doesn’t keep problem pigs around that won’t make it to his primary market.

Currently, Weber says he and other producers are still being asked to finish hogs to fairly heavy weights. As producer losses mount, however, he believes packers may have to okay lower market weights by this fall. “It looks to me that most packers will get caught in this drought-induced price squeeze as well.” The average live weight of market hogs in July was 269 pounds, up one  pound from the previous year, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Livestock Slaughter report released Friday.

Culling in the farrowing barn also is increasing as producers look for ways to use high-priced feed more efficiently. “Be selective at farrowing to give the healthiest piglets the best chance,” says Joe Kerns, Kerns and Associates, Ames, Iowa. “It will help lead to quicker breed-back and an opportunity to farrow a heartier litter when they will be worth more.” Kerns also suggests looser stocking densities after the cull, “which may improve performance of the remaining pigs.”

Sows also are being sent to market in large numbers and backing up processor schedules. Wait lists of two weeks or more have been reported at sow processing facilities, according to industry sources. For those producers considering marketing sows, scheduling deliveries has become a top priority.