In the face of record-setting feed costs, reducing your herd may be high in your priority list. If you are currently farrowing sows on your operation you may have considered culling a portion of your breeding herd as an option.

However, with many sows going to market, availability of processing facilities may be an increasing challenge as most sow facilities are at or near capacity. Some sellers are facing a two-week or longer wait to be put on the list to sell sows and it is important to schedule any sow sales as early as possible. “Reports from sow buyers in mid-August suggest 35,000 to 40,000 sows had been liquidated due to the drought and associated high feed prices,” according to Mike Brumm, Brumm Swine Consultancy, Mankato, Minn.

There are four factors that should be considered before making a decision about when to market sows: the condition of the sow, expected changes in sow prices, price of feed, and ease of handling, according to a Kansas State University Extension paper, ‘Marketing Cull Sows’.

In the past, you may have fed sows after farrowing to try to increase value at the plant.  Light, thin sows that have weaned heavy litters and have lost a lot of weight during lactation are usually better prospects for feeding than heavy sows, according to the authors.

With the current high feed prices, that strategy is quickly changing. “We are culling harder and not taking any chances with a possible unproductive sow,” says Bill Tentinger, LeMars, Iowa, pork producer and president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. Tentinger says the drought situation has altered his practices somewhat on cull sows. “I used to try to put weight and improve condition on those cull sows to get a premium for them, but now I am not feeding them very long before I sell them. With the cost of corn it's just not worth it now.”

There are two primary reasons for feeding cull sows: to allow them time to dry up and thereby avoid any discount on wet sows, and to gain back some of the weight lost during lactation, according to the authors. Both are good reasons. Light sows often will receive a larger discount for being wet than will heavy sows and usually will regain lost weight faster on less feed. Lame or seriously ill sows frequently do not regain weight quickly and may be poor prospects for feeding.

“In choosing to feed cull sows, the producer is betting that the value of the gain will be more than the feed and non-feed costs.” according to the authors. For most swine operations, feed is the major cost and currently is likely the primary factor to consider.

Read the full paper.