High hog prices mean you can’t afford misses

Today’s high hog prices dictate a completely different mindset from a few months ago when an oversupply of hogs and low prices required cost-cutting measures.

“It’s gone from trying to save and get by to now where hogs are highly profitable so you can’t afford to miss,” reported Jordan Graham, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.

“The margins are still fairly tight with corn prices as high as they are,” he added. “But when we miss out on selling a hog that is worth double what it was last year, it really hurts.”

Instead of looking at ways to cut costs, Graham says it’s time to reconsider health programs that weren’t economical at last year’s market prices. Some of those interventions may more than pay for themselves at current prices.

Shore-up vaccine strategies

“Reevaluate your vaccine strategies to make sure you are protected as much as possible from disease breaks” he said. “If you cut vaccinations now at the cost of a disease break or missing live born, then we are really shooting ourselves in the foot.

“If producers are partial-dosing, the savings gain might not be worth it if there’s any lapse in protection,” he added. “An example is ileitis prevention. Partial-dosing is done in the industry, and this would be a year where it probably does not pay because you run a higher risk of a breakdown in immunity.”

In addition, producers may also want to explore feed-additive options to improve feed conversion and average daily gain.

Treatment during outbreaks

“Being early and proactive on health challenges is extremely important this summer,” Graham said. “It’s almost certain any intervention that helps reduce mortality will pay for itself.”

For example, more aggressive treatment during a disease outbreak will likely be cost-effective.

Capital investments

“Take the opportunity while markets are good to take a second look at some capital investments that might have been cost prohibitive in the past,” Graham said.

For example, a sow-farm filtration system to minimize disease breaks may be a good investment right now.

Another potential investment area is adding space to your farm for proper gilt development. Graham said this will help increase total-born output of gilts by allowing adequate disease and housing acclimation. Gilts are the future of the farm, and investing in doing gilts right will pay dividends.

Biosecurity additions

Improvements in biosecurity to reduce disease outbreaks also may be worth the investment now, he added.

A couple of options include adding ultraviolet boxes for supply entry and building a compost facility to move away from rendering vehicles on the property.

This also may be the time to make capital improvements to truck washes. One example is adding thermo-assisted drying.

Taking advantage of the current market situation to make improvements now in herd health can pay off in the future when the market tightens up again, because as this past year has shown, markets can change fast.

“Last year I said we’d have low prices due to ample supply of hogs, and that’s turned on a dime this year,” Graham said.


Not making biosecurity improvements can cost more than making them

Biosecurity ranks high on the list of concerns for swine veterinarians who want hog units tightened up to reduce disease. But the cost of new improvements can be overwhelming, according to Jordan Graham, DVM, MS, Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minnesota. He recommends reframing the question to what’s the cost of not making biosecurity improvements.

“It’s pretty easy for us veterinarians to walk into a farm and say here’s the 10 things where we have gaps in biosecurity,” Graham said. “Some of these measures are…costly. What we have to weigh is the cost of not implementing some of these things, especially in this part of the world where disease breaks are fairly often, given our pig density,” he continued.

“A lot of producers have learned how to function in that world of ‘I had a disease break and I learned to manage through it.’

“We try to monetize those disease breaks and say, if we could reduce that break, what could we gain back in production? But I would take it one step further and say what are you missing out on by preventing these breaks?”

Rank improvements by importance

Since there are many biosecurity options, Graham suggests producers first create a list of improvements needed for the farm and the cost of each. Rank this list by importance and keep it on file.

“Having that list with expenditures and stack ranked ahead of time helps us better prioritize when we go into a period [with] capital to expand on some of these,” Graham said.

One of the most expensive but effective biosecurity improvements is air filtration. But there are plenty of other biosecurity options that can make a big impact on the health of the farm.

For example, ultraviolet (UV) chambers to disinfect small supplies and lunches going in and out of a farm are very effective, he said. The chambers are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Even a homemade UV chamber works well.

Mortality removal

Another example where an improvement can make a big impact is mortality removal.

“It’s a big issue on a lot of farms, especially older farms that aren’t set up to get sow carcasses out of a sow farm in a biosecure manner,” Graham said. “The dead drop or door…comes into contact with rendering or composting equipment, which is contaminated.”

Instead, he recommends setting up a system where the sows and other mortalities are physically out of the farm for the dead drop.

Biosecurity culture

Effective biosecurity also requires all members of the farm staff to follow biosecurity protocols.

“Biosecurity is a culture,” Graham said. “It’s never a question of are we going to pass things across the clean-dirty line or are we going to step outside.

“How do you foster that culture of biosecurity on the farm? It starts from the top down. People will act by example. If they see the owner come onto the farm and they’re not obeying the biosecurity rules that they have in place, you can bet they’re not going to do it when they’re not there.

“Putting a protocol in place is fantastic, but if we’re not auditing to that expectation, it will not get executed on a consistent basis,” he added. “The staff will understand that it’s important [enough] that you will be monitoring the processes you put in place.”