Technological change and vertical integration in the swine industry have resulted in fewer farms producing record amounts of pork. The number of operators involved in swine production in Pennsylvania fell from 20,000 at the beginning of 1981 to 3,456 in 1997. Pennsylvania remains an important swine producer with market value of sales ranking it 12th in the country.
Three Enterprises and Characteristics
Three types of swine production enterprises are farrow-to-finish, farrow-to-feeder, and feeder-to-finish. No blueprint exists for these systems. The important thing is to design a production system that will complement your resources and lifestyle.
To determine which enterprise will work best in your situation, you must first consider:
- The amount of capital, labor, and land available.
- The level of management and marketing skills needed.
- The social and environmental implications associated with manure management.
A farrow-to-finish enterprise involves breeding and farrowing sows, and feeding the offspring until they reach a market weight of about 240 pounds. The entire production period takes 10 to 11 months, with four months for breeding and gestation, plus six or seven months to raise the litter to market weight. Of the three systems, farrow-to-finish has the greatest long-run market potential and flexibility. A small number of sows can fit into a crop operation nicely when farrowings are scheduled to avoid peak harvest times. Farrow-to-finish operations demand the most capital and labor, and require a long-term commitment to the swine business.
A farrow-to-feeder enterprise involves breeding and farrowing sows and selling the piglets when they weigh 30 to 60 pounds to finishing operations. It decreases the need for facilities, operating capital, and the amount of feed and manure handled. Also, it provides a good foundation for increasing the number of sows or expanding into a farrow-to-finish operation. The biggest drawback of this system is that producers, especially those with small herds, are at the mercy of a volatile feeder pig market. This may require farrowing sows in groups to increase the number of pigs available during periods of high demand.
Most feeder-to-finish enterprises buy feeder pigs weighing 30 to 60 pounds and feed them to market weight. In most cases existing facilities are adequate for this system. This system allows for minimum overhead, low labor requirements, and no long-term commitment. The feeder-to-finish operation offers an opportunity for a grain farmer to use homegrown feeds to fatten pigs without having to manage breeding stock. The operation also may capitalize on the fertilizer value of the manure. Important points of concern are the source, health, and quality when buying feeder pigs. Reducing the number of farms from which pigs are purchased will help reduce herd health problems.
A marketing strategy should be developed before beginning a swine production enterprise. The alternatives for marketing feeder pigs and slaughter hogs from small-scale or part-time farms in Pennsylvania include:
- Finishing pig producers
- Livestock auctions
- Graded feeder pig sales
- Buying stations
- Direct sales to order buyers (on-farm market sales)
- Small packers/processors
- Specialty sales direct to consumers
Feeder Pig Marketing
All of the previously listed options are available to feeder pig producers. One of the most popular options is marketing directly to producers who finish pigs. This option has advantages for both parties. First, the buyer and seller know the price and delivery conditions in advance. Second, the direct-sale option reduces animal stress and disease risk. Third, the direct-to-finisher transaction voids commissions associated with a livestock auction.
Marketing feeder pigs through a livestock auction, a graded sale, or a buying station are other common options. Before using these markets, the producers should know the desirable weights and lot sizes that maximize prices received.
Slaughter Hog Marketing
Buying stations and sales direct to a major packer are popular options for marketing slaughter hogs. Both options allow producers to have a quoted price before selling their animals.
Small packers and processors are an additional market available to slaughter hog producers. They often pay a good price, but their plant capacity and number of customers restrict the number of hogs they buy.
An auction barn is a less commonly used option for selling slaughter hogs. Producers often use this market because of its location and convenience. The disadvantage of marketing through an auction barn is that producers are at the mercy of the hog supply available and the demand for hogs on the local market that day.
Specialty markets represent another alternative for slaughter hog producers. A popular form of direct sale enables the consumer to buy directly from a producer. The consumer then contracts with a small packer for customized meat cutting and packaging.
In summary, choosing a market involves a little homework. In comparing market alternatives, you must account for differences in price received, transportation expenses, shrink losses, selling costs, and convenience. A market 50 miles farther from the farm that is offering a higher price may produce less net revenue than selling to a local market at a lower price when all marketing costs are included. You must know your alternatives and stay current with price changes.
Feed is the major expense of any swine production system. In general, a farrow-to-finish operation will spend 75 percent of total expenses on feed, compared to 50 percent for farrow-to-feeder operations, and 65 percent for feeder-to-finish operations. A summary of the production inputs is listed below.
Summary of production resources
|Item||Farrow-Finish (20 Sows)||Farrow-Feeder (20 Sows)||Feeder-Finish (100 Hogs)|
|Manure output (cu ft/week)||370||100||160|
|Manure output (gal/week)||2,000||725||1,200|
Growing your own grain, making bulk purchases of additional ingredients, and using your own grinder and mixer (or hiring the work done in some situations) are effective ways to lower feed costs. However, adequate storage for large quantities of feed ingredients is necessary.
One major consideration in planning a swine enterprise is how to get feed to the pigs. Ideally, animals in farrowing, gestation, and nursery units should be hand-fed and those in the growing-finishing units could get their feed from automatic augers.
Water source is a very important health consideration in swine production. City or well water is preferred. Caution must be used when using spring water due to surface contaminants that can lead to health problems. Pond water should be avoided.
Getting water to the pigs is generally simple. Water lines running into the barn should be buried or properly insulated to prevent winter freezing. Automatic nipple waterers are best when set at proper flow rates. Bowl-type waterers are acceptable, but they are difficult to keep clean and they often lead to water wastage. Remember that all the water put into the building must be hauled out.
Water requirements for swine by size of animal
|Item||12-30 lb||30-75 lb||75-100 lb||100-240 lb||Sow & Boar||Lactating Sow|
Waste management often requires more labor than most part-time producers anticipate. How you get the manure out of the pens, out of the buildings, and onto the fields must be thoroughly planned before bringing any number of pigs onto your property. When handling manure, be considerate of your neighbors and be sure your practices are within the legal limits of the local, state, and federal governments. The expected quantities of manure from each of the three production systems are listed above.
The need for bedding will depend on the facility. The use of straw in a cold, drafty barn will minimize the need for an elaborate ventilation system, but will require more labor. Shavings may be used but can be quite costly. Sawdust should be avoided because of the potential for transmission of swine tuberculosis.
Most part-time swine producers have minimal problems with herd health. Some important aspects of maintaining herd health include:
- purchasing breeding stock or feeder pigs from a clean source
- keeping the facilities clean and maintaining adequate ventilation
- establishing a health maintenance program (through an extension agent or veterinarian).
The elements of a herd health plan usually include provisions for:
- reducing the risk of new disease introduced by herd additions or visitors
- maintaining sanitation
- treating or avoiding parasites
- preventing and controlling respiratory, reproductive, and diarrheal diseases.
If these simple guidelines are followed, only a small investment in time and money need be made in a health program.
The sample budgets included in this publication summarize costs and returns for swine. Included in this publication are three sample budgets that summarize the costs and returns of farrow-to finish, farrow-to-feeder, and feeder-to-finish enterprises. These budgets should help ensure that you include all costs and receipts in your calculations. Costs and returns are often difficult to estimate in budget preparation because they are numerous and variable. Think of these budgets as an approximation and make appropriate adjustments using the "your estimate" column to reflect your specific production conditions. More information on using livestock budgets can be found in Agricultural Alternatives: Enterprise Budget Analysis.
You can make changes to the interactive PDF budget files for this publication by inputting your own prices and quantities in the green outlined cells for any item. The cells outlined in red automatically calculate your revised totals based on the changes you made to the cells outlined in green. You will need to click on and add your own estimated price and quantity information to all of the green outlined cells to complete your customized budget. When you are done, you can print the budget using the green Print Form button at the bottom of the form. You can use the red Clear Form button to clear all the information from your budget when you are finished.
You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to use these forms. If you do not have this program installed on your computer, you can download a free version .
Sample Budget Worksheets
- Sample Swine Budget Farrow-to-Feeder
- Sample Swine Budget Farrow-to-Finish
- Sample Swine Budget Feeder-to-Finish
Initial resource requirements
Labor (per sow per year):
25 hours X 20 sows = 500 hours
- Livestock (per head)
- $350 X 20 bred gilts = $7,000
- $400 X 2 boars = $800
- Existing buildings, equipment, fencing: $15,000
Labor (per sow per year):
18 hours X 20 sows = 360 hours
- Livestock (per head)
- $350 X 20 bred gilts = $7,000
- $400 X 2 boars = $800
- Existing building, equipment, fencing: $7,000
Labor (per head):
2 hours X 100 pigs = 200 hours
- Livestock (per pig):
- $36 X 100 pigs = $3,600
- Existing building, equipment, fencing: $5,000
For More Information
Farm Journal (Hogs Today)
230 West Washington Square
Philadelphia, PA 19105
P.O. Box 366
Lititz, PA 17543
National Hog Farmer
P.O. Box 16351
St. Paul, MN 55116
704 Lisburn Road
Camp Hill, PA 17011
P.O. Box 2984
Shawnee Mission, KS 66201
Pork Industry Handbook
Publications and Distribution Center
Printing and Publications Building
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa 50011
Prepared by Kenneth B. Kephart, professor of dairy and animal science, George L. Greaser, senior research associate in agricultural economics, Jayson K. Harper, associate professor of agricultural economics, and H. Louis Moore, professor of agricultural economics.
To view a PDF version of this publication, click on the PDF icon at the top right of this page.
This publication was developed by the Small-scale and Part-time Farming Project at Penn State with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Extension Service.