NCSU Extension Swine Husbandry 2005

A more printable version of Swine News in Adobe Acrobat.

October, 2005 . Volume 28, Number 09


Change is continuous in farming. It may be caused by prices, farm programs, trade policies, technology, markets, consumer preferences, or other aspects. Some farm enterprises benefit from these changes and some are harmed, so the search for profitable alternatives is a continuous challenge. There are no “silver bullets,” but there are seven important questions that can guide a search for alternative enterprises. Answering each of these is important to achieving success.

  1. Why are you interested in alternative enterprises? Some of the issues to think about include your lifestyle and family income goals, the farm products or services of interest to you, and other options that might help you achieve your goals. It also helps to examine the time and investment capital you have available.

  2. What are consumers interested in buying, and who will be your customers? Many farm families are not accustomed to studying their customers because they sell commodities that move into global markets. However, many alternatives to these traditional farm enterprises operate in local or specialty markets, so knowing your customers and marketing issues become very important. Two tasks must be completed—a market analysis of potential customers and competitors, and an assessment of the competitiveness of your venture. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said, “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” This is as true for the family farm as it is for a major multinational company.

  3. What are you planning to sell, and how will you sell it? There are four subparts to this question: What is your product or service, how you will get it to your customer, how will you promote it, and how you will set your price?

  4. Will your product require processing, and, if so, how will you produce it? Food products have a host of technical, regulatory, and production requirements that affect production, distribution, and sale.

  5. What business and legal issues apply? Depending on the type of enterprise and the scale of operation, you may need to think about risk management and insurance, the form of your business organization (partnership, corporation, etc.), contracts, employment law compliance, business and employment taxes, and intellectual property protection.

  6. What resources will you need? Once your ideas have been well developed and you have a production and marketing plan, you should determine what resources you will need and where they will come from. These may include human resources (family members and external advisers), facilities and equipment, suppliers and distributors, and financing (including your own money and borrowing needs)

  7. Will it be financially feasible and worthwhile? This is most people’s least favorite part of planning, but just because you CAN produce and sell something doesn’t mean it will be a financial success. There are four aspects to consider: The profitability of the venture once you get established; cash flow, especially during the start-up phase; financial risk and risk management, including your exit strategy if things go badly wrong; and the ability of this enterprise to meet the lifestyle and income goals you identified in Question 1.

As you can see, these questions are easy to ask but not as easy to answer. Sometimes the first answer you come up with is not workable or suitable, and you have to rethink your ideas. All of this requires effort, but taking the time to make sure your idea will work will help avoid problems or disappointments down the road.

-Geoff Benson, Ph.D.
Extension Economist
Department of Agriculutral &
Resource Economics
NC State University


The high price of energy will impact many activities on the farm. Not only are prices at the gasoline pump high, but as oil and energy costs rise, natural gas, propane, and fertilizer will be more expensive, too.

Swine producers should consider ways to save energy costs and maximize efficiency without adversely impacting production. Here are some ways:

  • Most of the heat loss from a livestock building occurs through ventilation. However, producers should resist the temptation to under-ventilate their buildings. This will result in higher humidity and gas levels and may create health problems, costing more than the fuel saved. Fine-tuning the ventilation system is a more appropriate approach. Maintenance is important to be sure things are operating at peak efficiency.

  • Make sure all fans and inlets are cleaned regularly and are well maintained. Fans lose efficiency as they become dirty or if the shutter is damaged or plugged with dirt. Inlets should close tightly when not used. Seal openings where heat can be lost and where moisture seeps into walls, which will slowly rot the building’s materials and damage the insulation. Heaters should be cleaned and serviced regularly so they run at peak efficiency.

  • Make sure all curtains are tight, and overlap the opening completely when curtains are closed. Make sure all holes are patched. Inspect curtains regularly and keep them maintained. One night with a curtain malfunction will be very expensive if the heater runs to make up for the open curtain. Consider upgrading to an insulated curtain if warranted, particularly in wean-to-finish buildings.

  • Ventilation control is important as well. Most controllers will not let second-stage fans and heaters run at the same time; however, they may cycle when they should not, wasting heat. Spend time in your building observing fans and heaters coming on and off. If a heater runs and then a second stage fan comes on, you should exam the offsets on the heater setting. This is a frequent problem with heaters that are too large for the room, or in older controllers that are not set properly.

  • Other ways to save energy include watching the controllers’ set-point closely. Pigs should be comfortable to slightly cool. Many swine nurseries, for instance, are heated too much. Set points will vary, depending on drafts and other factors that affect pig comfort, but many nurseries for pigs weaned at 3 to 4 weeks can be set as low as 80 degrees Fahrenheit after the pigs have adjusted for a day or two post-weaning and are eating aggressively. After the pigs have been weaned, nursery temps should be lowered 3 to 4 degrees per week. Likewise, finishing pigs can tolerate temperatures as low as 58 degrees in slatted buildings as they approach market weight. Sows may need slightly warmer temperatures if they are in stalls and unable to huddle together.

  • Other energy-saving measures include reducing the number of trips to town for supplies. Combine trips when possible, and don’t drive the gas-guzzler truck to pick up a nail. Attempt to have full loads of feed delivered, and try to market full loads of pigs at one time.

  • Reevaluate the value of your manure, particularly for nitrogen. Nitrogen prices are also increasing as energy costs rise. Manage manure whenever possible to maximize nitrogen value for your cropping systems. Conserve fertilizer costs by utilizing manure as efficiently as possible.

These suggestions may have a small impact individually, but in combination, they may decrease your energy costs significantly during this time of high prices. Other ideas for conserving may be found at this Iowa State University Web site:

-Jay Harmon
Ph.D., P.E., Iowa State University

-Mark Boggess
Ph.D., National Pork Board


Working in a swine operation can place significant demands on your back. However, it is possible to avoid back pain and injuries through preventative measures. The following safety guidelines can help farm workers to avoid back problems:

  • Pay attention to posture and get regular exercise. Strong and flexible muscles and minimal stress due to incorrect posture are your best bets in maintaining a healthy back.
  • Avoid bending at the waist when lifting heavy objects. Use your legs and arms to do the lifting by bending at your knees and keeping your back straight.
  • Keep objects close to your body when lifting.
  • Ensure that you have a tight grip.
  • Use a ladder when lifting something over your head.
  • Raise one of your legs as you reach over to pick up light items. Standing flat-footed tends to strain muscles.
  • Avoid twisting at the waist while you lift.
  • Face the object that you are lifting.
  • Minimize hazards that might cause you to trip or slip.
  • If the object you are moving is heavy, get help. Use a dolly or a forklift if you can.
  • Don’t overdo it. If you have to strain to lift a load it is too heavy.
  • Take many small breaks between lifts if you are lifting a number of things.

-Todd See


The National Pork Board Professional Managers Conference, focusing on gilt and sow throughput, will be held Nov. 8-9 at the Sampson Agri-Exposition Center in Clinton.

You will receive practical information to improve reproductive output from the unit or system you manage. You will get hands-on training you can take home and apply immediately. The conference aims to deliver knowledge and information to fine-tune a swine operation for maximum productivity and profitability.

Topics to be discussed include:

  • Stray voltage (electrical pitfalls)
  • Ventilation management
  • Biosecurity/sanitation
  • Sow longevity
  • Animal welfare
  • Gilt pool management
  • Emerging/re-emerging diseases
  • Troubleshooting (farrowing rate, litter size, and breeding)

To register and/or obtain more information, call 800-456-PORK or see

-Todd See

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Last modified July 1, 2005.