Benchmark and improve

Stephen Hall considers the value of data to a pig production business and explains how to calculate total herd FCR, one of the sector’s key measures of efficiency

The value of data to any pig producer is unquestionably very high in terms of informing and maintaining any management strategy that’s aimed at achieving the optimum production efficiency that’s needed to meet the challenges of a market that’s fundamentally driven by the balance of supply and demand. Unfortunately, many producers don’t understand the value of the information that they could collect and use.

In the middle of the 20th century, a Japanese economist promoting the “Total Quality Management” concept that had seen the rise of Japanese manufacturing to global dominance was asked by a visiting British delegation why the country’s manufacturers were happy to open their factories, talk frankly about their techniques and show the secrets of their success. The answer was telling: “We know you won’t do it,” he said.

The management strategies of Japan’s successful manufacturing industries were based on techniques that relied on analysing data; and that data carried a high value within each business.

Most pig producers keep records of their production business. “Births, deaths and marriages” are commonly recorded, while feed costs, and in some cases even more detailed input expenses, are married up with performance. However, these records are rarely used beyond producing management action lists and reporting historic results against target key performance indicators (KPIs).

To take this further and to do something with this data, we need to: know what to look at; understand the causes of variation; and develop controls. That’s what the Japanese manufacturers did.

One natural area to address is feed cost because it represents approximately 60% of the total costs of a breeding/feeding enterprise; broken down a stage further, it equates to 30% and 70% respectively of breeding herd and feeding herd costs.

To make this cost go further by increasing the output over cost, we need to look at the total herd feed conversion ratio (FCR). To understand this figure we need to look at the components that make up the calculation. Sow feed and feeding pig feed per carcase kilogram is the final calculation that produces this figure, but this is the culmination of virtually every management action on the farm.

Working backwards from the total herd FCR using valid performance data is a fascinating and rewarding journey that takes the producer into the “known”, not the “unknown”. Pig production has relied, for generations, on intuition and instinct to control the unknown, this is what makes pig farming a way of life. The prospect of harnessing that intuition and instinct to something that can be known helps us to understand the value of data and turns records into response.

Total Herd FCR is a key feed efficiency measure and it represents the output over input of 70% of the cost of integrated production to the point of sale of a kilogram of pig meat “manufactured” by the pig unit. The components of this particular KPI are: kg of sow feed per sow per year; pigs sold per sow per year; and the weaning to slaughter FCR of the finisher pigs.

As an example, we can look at the calculations required to find the total herd FCR of a unit with the following production figures:

Feed/sow/year, 1,380kg

Pigs sold/sow/year, 23.8

Wean to slaughter FCR, 2.63

Weaning weight, 7.4kg

Liveweight at sale, 112.7kg

Killing out, 74.2%

First, we calculate the meat output/sow/year by multiplying the pigs/sow/year by the meat produced/finisher (finished weight multiplied by the killing out percentage).

23.8 x (112.7 x 74.2%) = 1,990.23kg/sow/year

Then, we calculate total feed use by adding the feed/sow/year to the finisher feed (meat/sow/year multiplied by the wean to slaughter FCR).

1,380kg + (1,990.23kg x 2.63) = 6,614.30kg

Finally, dividing the result for the total feed used by the total meat produced/sow/year gives the total herd FCR.

6,614.30 ÷ 1,990.23 = 3.32

A sound target for the UK industry would be a total herd FCR of 3.0, and an aspiration should be 2.8.

Of course, there needs to be adjustment made and the target re-evaluated where the capacity to exert management control is compromised by individual producers’ systems. The main compromise is the indoor/outdoor system variation, however, other possible compromises include long-term margin over investment, animal welfare perception and methods of animal health evaluation.

A healthy pig in every available pig place from as few sows as possible is my approach to management strategy. But without data this, in my opinion, is impossible because I can’t know the likely outcome of many of my actions, and I’m dependent upon my intuition and instinct, which even after 45 years of production is still likely to let me down.

> Stephen Hall can be contacted via: www.stephenhallmanagement.com

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