Profiting from Cull Sows
If you follow the management strategy principle, that replacement gilts are a fixed cost then the next consideration is making sure that the fixed cost turns an optimum profit at the point of culling. One of the most expensive culled breeding females is the culled gilt. The replacement gilt represents considerable investment and if she fails to breed once she will have cost management and preparation costs that accumulate whether she has been home produced or purchased. If she is allowed to fail multiple times this will accumulate cost that could more than double the loss against the original investment. On the basis that the business is herd based the multiples of lost opportunity cost caused by the hole that she leaves in the service group and subsequent service groups that she was introduced into seriously reduces the potential production levels and potential profitability of the herd.
In many UK breeding herds the level of culling in parities one and two is totally unacceptable and raises concern for the agricultural banking sector looking to support pig businesses. It is also a welfare/sustainability issue, in that it represents poor management practise leading to early and unnecessary slaughtering of low value carcasses. At the other end of the spectrum any herd that is not executing a one to five parity management strategy is taking sows into an increasing risk of failure which increase the overall lifetime operating cost of the sow and lowers the herd productivity. Culls sows can carry added lifetime costs that exceed their original purchase price.
I believe that a producer breeding their own replacement gilts on well managed genetic programme and carrying a gilt pool with the potential to replace 70% of the herd annually can afford to cull any gilts that return after their first service. (The normal replacement rate should be at least 60%) This is because every gilt is programmed to fit into the service group size (for the business) that she will eventually join after the completion of her first production cycle. Therefore, there is no room for her in a subsequent service group if she fails. Producers who purchase their replacement gilts may decide to give the failed gilt one chance, on financial grounds, nevertheless the same principle applies. Some producers manage a zero tolerance of returns and some will give a sow one chance in her lifetime. There are farms emerging in UK records that record virtually no evidence of re-service. These farms have very stable production patterns, service group to service group. These are established through excellent replacement gilt management that takes a high percentage of replacements on into a full herd life.
There has long been debate about the cull sow and the effect of her wean to sale empty days. On smaller units culls sows are often kept and collected into reasonable group sizes because of transport costs. The cumulative wasted days are a drag on the productive herd results reducing litters/sow/year and consequently pigs/sow/year, or herd productivity and lowering the morale of the staff. In a herd that is managing a one to five parity distribution and strict culling based on a successful gilt management strategy, the cull sow becomes an interesting prospect. The average age of culls sows can be as much as four parities and the average number of productive cycles per sow under half a parity less. Sow mortality is minimal and the sows being culled fit and healthy which is a welfare plus and reduces the need for escalating assurance measures. It is therefore a consideration well worth making as to whether the sow is culled from the records at weaning and grouped for ‘fattening’ in the period it takes for the individual farm to accumulate the optimum numbers of sows to transport to slaughter.
These sows could become an added value to the business because I believe that they could be target marketed not as a natural waste product of pig production but as a specific carcass opportunity. Why do we send all our cull sows to Germany, most of which are either low weight, low value gilt to parity two animals, or creaking older sows? The UK cull sow that has been released from production carrying only the natural wean to serve wasted days on record and given a few days to regain condition, with a good FCR, is now a fresh product not a by-product with the potential to add flavour to processed pork products such as sausages and flavour enhanced ready meals etc. The UK production output figures would also increase and cost of production improve to more stable levels.