NCSU Extension Swine Husbandry 1996

May, 1996 . Volume 19, Number 4


Changes in the economics of swine production, and occasionally family and personal changes in the lives of producers, may require that they evaluate their swine enterprise as a component of their livelihood. This evaluation process is not always straightforward and simple. Often it cannot be based solely on economic considerations because emotions, lifestyle, and family ties may be involved.

Whatever decisions are rendered, the ultimate objective of this process is to enhance the producer's personal welfare and to increase profits from the swine production enterprise.

Factors to Consider:

One step in evaluating your swine enterprise is to describe its current status. The following list of descriptive categories can be used to evaluate the current status of a swine production enterprise. There may be other considerations in addition to those listed below.

  1. Personal preferences, goals, and situation: What do you enjoy? Are you near retirement? Are there family members that want to produce pork?
  2. Condition of your facilities: Do they work well? Are major repairs required?
  3. Waste handling system: Is your operation in compliance with waste management regulations? If not, can it be brought into compliance and at what cost?
  4. Current level of management: Is your operation achieving the highest levels of production efficiency in sow productivity and feed efficiency? Are you producing high quality pigs at the lowest cost? Which parts of your operation are competitive and which are not?
  5. Marketing alternatives: Are you selling your product for the highest possible price? What alternatives are available to you locally? Are you taking advantage of risk reduction possibilities such as "marketing window" pricing agreements and hedging?
  6. Financial condition: Do you have adequate borrowing capacity, cash reserves, or other sources of income to survive periods of low hog prices? Can you afford to make a major new investment?
  7. Major production inputs: Are your inputs of the most profitable quality at the lowest price; feeding program, genetic stock, herd health?
  8. Willingness to become part of a network: Will you market pigs or buy inputs through a network?
  9. Recordkeeping and analysis: Do you keep a full set of production and financial records? Do you use them?
  10. Can you be profitable at $42 per cwt. long-run average hog prices?

Four Basic Options: Which Suits You?

Four basic options for swine production enterprises are described below. Characteristics of producers and swine operations that may fit each option are included.

  1. Operate as an independent. A good candidate to operate as an independent is a producer who: enjoys producing pork, wishes to continue or has a family member who wishes to continue, has good facilities and waste management system, has good management and achieves high levels of efficiency, has good marketing opportunities and sound financial condition, keeps and uses accurate records, and can be profitable (and happy) over the long run at $42 per cwt.. Individuals with operations that meet most of these criteria might consider methods of attaining the others. Producers with adequate equity may consider refinancing to improve their cash flow. Those who lack equity may consider taking on a partner to reduce debt and improve cash flow. Independent producers may consider "networks" as a way to secure markets for pigs and hogs, as a way to acquire inputs at lower prices, and as a way to enter "marketing window' agreements with packers to reduce hog price variation.
  2. Operate as an independent but "specialize". A producer whose operation meets most of the criteria above may prefer to modify the operation and "specialize" in some way. Specialization can be accomplished in many different ways. For some, it may be giving up on-farm feed mixing or on-farm gilt replacement programs. It may mean just producing weaned pigs or just operating a nursery or finishing floor. The aspects of pig production that the operator enjoys and "is good at", along with the condition of facilities, waste handling capacity, financial condition, and markets may affect this decision. In some cases, a producer may have to work with other producers to create a market for weaned pigs or to market enough hogs to get a better marketing arrangement. Networks can allow independent producers to specialize and achieve the efficiencies of larger farms.
  3. Operate as a contract producer. A producer who enjoys producing pork, and who has good facilities and waste handling capacity might consider producing under contract. Insufficient equity or cash reserves to survive periods of low hog prices, lack of access to markets, lack of access to low priced inputs, and a preference for focusing just on production (rather than marketing and finance) are potential reasons for producing under contract.
  4. Liquidate the operation. A producer who is nearing retirement and has no family member interested in continuing or a producer who sees more profitable use of his/her time and capital in other enterprises might consider this option. Also, if facilities are worn out and expensive to repair, this option might be considered. If the producer has no desire to continue but has facilities that are in good condition, they may be leased or sold to someone else.
  5. Other options exist. The four options listed above are the most basic. Each producer's situation is unique so other options may be appropriate. Finance, risk management, production, and marketing are areas of management that each have their own set of problems and their own set of possible solutions.

Who to Contact for Further Assistance

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service has a center in each North Carolina county. For further assistance, contact your local extension agent in your county North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service Center. In addition to their own expertise, extension agents can contact a variety of specialists and use other resources to respond to your request.

Kelly Zering
Charles Stanislaw


Currently genotypes that produce leaner carcasses are being selected and utilized in commercial pork production. These leaner genotypes are typically longer, leaner and have larger loin muscle areas; however, they also can contain as much as 50% less intramuscular fat, have a higher shear force meat (tougher) and are paler in color. In addition, research has shown that dietary protein content does have a significant impact on carcass composition. If the pig has the genetic potential, feeding high level of protein in the early growing phase(s) can increase carcass leanness.

Researchers K.F. Goerl, S.J. Eilert, R.W. Mandigo, H.Y. Chen and P.S. Miller, at the University of Nebraska, recently reported research results (J. Anim. Sci. 73:3621) from a trial that evaluated the effects of genetic line and crude protein on carcass characteristics. Two genotypes were evaluated: a low lean growth potential line (GP) that has been selected for only reproductive traits for 20 years and a leaner Hampshire (HAMP) line. Treatments (10, 13, 16, 19, 22 and 25% crude protein) were randomly assigned across pens of each genotype. The gilts were fed the assigned diets from 60 to 230 lbs.

The results of the project presented in Table 1 indicated that the HAMP gilts had larger loins and less backfat than the GP gilts. Backfat decreased linearly with increased crude protein and the response of loin area to crude protein was quadratic.

The longissimus muscle of the GP line had greater water-holding capacity than the HAMP line, suggesting a decreased meat quality. Cooking yields of chops from the GP line were greater than cooking yields of chops from the HAMP line. This is another indication of the greater water-holding capacity of the GP line as compared to the HAMP line. No differences in cooking yield were observed in response to the protein treatments.

The shear values indicated a more tender meat from the HAMP line than the GP line, which is not in agreement with previous research. Tenderness was also shown to decrease with increasing levels of dietary crude protein, but had the greatest impact in the 10% crude protein diet, which was a deficiency.

Ham yields of the HAMP line were greater than those of the GP line. Ham lean yields also increased with increasing levels of dietary crude protein. No significant differences were reported for the additional traits of moisture, fat, protein, ash or pH values between the two populations.

This study characterized lean tissue composition, color, tenderness, and water-holding capacity as affected by protein level and two genetic lines. However, feeding only one dietary crude protein level during the grow-finish period is not the most economical nutrition program and staged diets may have an affect on carcass composition and meat quality characteristics. Gilts selected for increased lean deposition exhibited greater protein accretion, lower shear force, and lower water-holding capacity than gilts that received no selection for carcass leanness. However, pork from leaner genetic lines was more tender, likely due to increased protein turnover at the time of slaughter. Dietary crude protein level dramatically altered composition and changed tenderness, especially when deficiencies in dietary crude protein occurred. To improve the quality and consistency of pork products through genetics and nutrition more research will be required.

Table 1. Carcass and muscle characteristics as affected by population and crude protein level

Genetic Population Dietary Crude Protein Level(%)
Trait HAMP GP Response 10 13 16 19 22 25 Response
Carcass backfat, in. 1.12 1.63 P<.01 1.46 1.47 1.43 1.25 1.31 1.33 linear
Carcass loin muscle area, sq. in. 5.32 4.00 P<.01 3.71 4.71 5.05 4.64 4.88 4.98 quadratic
Water-holding capacity 3.05 2.14 P<.01 2.34 2.58 2.64 2.80 2.71 2.52 NS
Warner Bratzler peak force 30.78 35.01 P<.01 29.19 32.19 33.09 35.38 35.83 31.69 quadratic
Ham lean yield % 56.26 51.97 P<.01 50.56 52.33 54.34 55.44 55.85 56.16 linear
Cook yield % 71.02 74.28 P<.01 71.89 73.64 72.69 72.86 71.69 73.16 NS

Todd See


If a sow is bred three times in two days, which mating contributed the most number of pigs to the litter when she farrows? This question has always been important, but it takes on new significance with the use of combination matings (natural followed by A.I.). If there is a difference with mating time, then the genetic merit of the sires used for both natural service and for artificial insemination needs to be taken into account.

Dr. Billy Flowers, reproductive physiologist at North Carolina State University, recently released data from an experiment which he designed and conducted to answer this specific question, i.e., what is the influence of timing of matings during estrus on the paternity of individual pigs in the litter. He used 40 multiparous sows and 17 mature boars in an experiment, where estrus was checked twice daily and each female was bred three times at 12 hour intervals beginning at the first detected estrus. Thirty-five of the sows received combination matings with a single different boar used for each mating. Matings were arranged so that every possible combination of matings from boars occurred an equal number of times. Blood samples were obtained from all piglets in the experimental litters ten days after farrowing. These blood samples were submitted to DNA extraction and analysis to establish piglet parentage.

The proportion of piglets sired by the first, second and third boar in the breeding sequence is presented in Table 1. In those litters with piglets from two different sires, the second and third boar used in the breeding sequence sired more (p <.05) piglets than the first boar (boar 1, 23.7 2.3; boar 2, 45.0 3.4; boar 3, 31.3 4.5%). Also, in litters containing piglets from all three sires, the second and third boars in the breeding sequence sired more (p < .05) piglets than the first boar, even though the distribution tended to be more uniform than in litters with two sires. Overall, 25.7 2.3, 41.5 3.7 and 32.8 4.5% were sired by the first, second and third boars in the sequence, respectively.

According to Dr. Flowers, the results demonstrate that the majority of the pigs in a litter are the result of a single mating. Further, this mating usually is not the first one the sow receives during estrus. In this experiment, approximately 75% of the pigs farrowed were the product of the A.I. matings. Consequentlx, Dr. Flowers emphasizes that the genetic merit of the A.I. sires used in combination matings is very important.

Table 1. Distribution (% s.e.) of pigs sired within a litter sired by the first, second and third boar in the breeding sequence.

Variable First Sire Second Sire Third Sire
Litters with 2 sires 23.7 2.3x 45.0 3.4y 31.3 4.5z
Litters with 3 sires 27.7 3.5x 37.0 4.0y 35.3 4.7y
All litters 25.7 3.3x 41.5 3.7y 32.8 4.5y
x,y,z Means with different superscripts within rows are different (p < .05).

Charles Stanislaw

Number of accesses since April 16, 1996:
Last modified August 7, 2000.