During times of high feed costs, pork producers should carefully evaluate key production data to help identify those animals with the best chance to become full potential pigs. Careful recordkeeping and benchmarking are indispensible tools in this process, according to Dr. Gawain Willis, director of nutritional services, Purina Animal Nutrition.

Piglet birth weight is a key parameter as it provides your operation with data that can help increase the number of full potential pigs, according to Willis. “It is important that individual birth weight data be recorded on at least 10 percent of litters,” he says. “That is the only way to see the mean birth weight, the range in birth weights as well as the number of piglets in various weight categories.”

Piglets are not commodities and some have added value, Willis says. According to the company’s research on 2,450 litters, piglets with birth weights between 2.1 pounds and 2.5 pounds experienced higher mortality, had lower weaning weights, underperformed in the nursery and weighed 6 pounds less at finish when compared to those with birth weights between 3.1 pounds and 3.5 pounds. “Starting out light has negative effects on the pig’s performance for the entire production cycle,” he adds.

The added effort of recordkeeping can have positive results in an operation’s revenue. “There are real incentives for producers to try to improve birth weights or focus their efforts on those heavier piglets,” Willis says.

However, records in a file or kept on a computer that are not part of daily tracking and improvement process are not worth much. “A key part of keeping records is making them come alive in action,” Willis says. “Benchmarking often provides the incentive for improvement in herd performance, or if it is already doing well, to keep it there.”

Most recordkeeping programs track total born, born alive, stillbirths and piglet mortalities as well as weaning numbers and weights.  Some will have the ability to track reasons for losses that can be useful. “Factors such as cross fostering, however, can add complexity to how the numbers are managed,” Willis adds.

Some recordkeeping systems provide for recording these key data and provide good visual representations and benchmarking. “If producers aren’t using a system that records these data, then an excel spreadsheet that produces charts is a good first step,” according to Willis. “To make the data come alive is the key.”