According to the USDA's latest issue of Livestock, Dairy and Poultry report released on July 18, U.S. hog producers broke through the 10-pigs-per litter barrier in the March-May quarter, according to the Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report, released by USDA on June 24. The report indicated a litter rate of 10.03 pigs per litter, or 2.2 percent higher than the litter rate of the spring quarter a year ago. The 10.03 pigs per litter mark positions the U.S. hog production industry to possibly surpass Canadian hog producers’ longstanding litter-rate lead. Canada will report its April-June metrics
on August 22nd.

U.S. litter rates have trended upwards for more than two decades, but the 10+ pigs per litter mark had never been achieved until March-May 2010. Several factorslikely culminated to push the U.S. hog production industry to 10+ pigs-per-litter mark in the second quarter.

Genetic improvement—the ability to identify, select and incorporate strong breeding characteristics in the reproductive herd—is a key factor in accelerated U.S. litter rates. A generalized industry adoption of innovations in technology that improve animal handling procedures, breeding methods, and nutritional composition are also among the major factors contributing to larger litters, superior survival rates, and improved weaned-pig numbers.

It is also hard to minimize the importance of management and labor coordination in large breeding programs, both of which have received significant industry attention in recent years. Finally, while structural change in the U.S. hog industry has received exhaustive attention from economists, it is hard to overestimate the reproductive implications that derive from an industry that has moved from a very large number of small operations to a relatively small number of very large, specialized operations.

It is notable that the litter rates of major hog producing States Iowa and Minnesota have led the pack, exceeding the U.S. average and effectively pulling the country’s average over the 10 pigs per litter mark.