The economics of a gilt pool

I often get asked about the cost of inserting a gilt pool into an existing farm premises cost and what the likely payback might be, but there’s little published information on this.

“The cost all depends,” so-called experts like myself tend to say when faced with the direct question. It can cost eight times more to build one from scratch compared to converting a disused cattle court, for example.

I have managed to collar some costs from producers that have established a gilt pool. The conversion cost was an average of 2% (range 1.4-3.9%) on their cost of production (COP) across an estimated 12-year life.

The extra time and labour needed to run the gilt pool also needs to be added-in, and this was about 0.5%. So, allowing a total rise in COP of 3%, it’s not too bad as this is only about  £1.50 on a £53.00 weaner. It also puts the cost of a spanking new one into perspective, as some new-builders have found out.

As with any capital venture, the payback time all depends (again!) on how soon and how much more income the investment secures. If a producer finds himself short of ready-to-serve, properly prepared gilts, which has cost of 9% of output per year, the cost is getting on for £7 to £8 per weaner. That’s a healthy return, and one that would even justify a new-build during the 20-year life for such a building.

I needed some real before-and-after figures to cement my findings, and found them in three Eastern European farms that took my advice to start a gilt pool. I published the complete results in 2011 (Modern Pig Production Technology – pages 165-167), but Table 1 provides the gist of them.

Table 1: Performance of three farms before and after adoption of a gilt pool
Conventional system Gilt pool system
Farm A B C A B C
Av number of sows 370 120 800 386 126 830
Weaners per week 164 48 336 163 50 340
Drug cost/sow (euros) 21.60 14.62 27.91 14.71 11.25 16.98


Although the improvement in performance was a bit disappointing, I include the much lower drug medication costs, which supported the fact that there are fewer disease problems – a feature of many farms out there at the time.

The transfer to the gilt pool system also meant that replacement females were on-farm for a longer period before being bred and thus had a more and longer exposure (37 days compared to 24 days previously) to the resident herd’s disease profile.

While the improvement in weaners sold/sow was modest, the sow productive life at the end of nearly three years increased from 3.9 litters to 4.86 litters by the time they were culled. This meant lower overheads resulting in 24% more being earned from each sow. This alone fully justified the gilt pool concept.

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About The Author

John Gadd, who has spent 60 years' involvement in pig production, has had more than 2,800 articles about pigs published and has written three best-selling pig textbooks. With hands-on experience that includes managing a grow-out herd at 1,800ft in Banffshire, Scotland, and 20 years in the allied industries with Boots' Farm Department, RHM Agriculture and Taymix, he set up his own international pig management consultancy in the mid 1980s and has now visited more than 3,000 pig units in 33 countries as a pig management adviser. (Photo courtesy Bournemouth Daily Echo)