Expert opinion


Weaning capacity

I've been writing quite a bit recently on Sow Productive Life (SPL) and that I am disturbed at pig farmers' apparent complacency about how short it is these days – and what to do about extending it.

I've been writing quite a bit recently on Sow Productive Life (SPL) and that I am disturbed at pig farmers' apparent complacency about how short it is these days – and what to do about extending it.

This has caused quite a bit of comment to judge from my postbag, but few correspondents seem to have fully cottoned on to the financial penalty of too short a sow productive life.

For example, many producers are only achieving 3.4 litters per sow lifetime when 5.5 litters are comfortably secured on some of the best farms I visit. Indeed, just recently Hypor, the genetics firm, were saying that a 5.8 litter SPL is their own target, and from what they call 'weaning capacity' they go on (Broadbent, 2008) to suggest a benchmark of 505 kg SPL based on 12 pigs weaned/litter at 7.25 kg.

Use of capital
Table 1 looks at on-farm figures from my own experience and goes on to express them further and more meaningfully, as not only does a decent SPL improve on the use of capital but it also eases the cash flow considerably.

Table 1. On-farm figures regarding SPL, on the basis of 1,000 sows and 22 weaners sow/year.

  SPL (litters) SPL (kg weaner weight) New sow needed every… Replacement gilts needed per week
Typical worldwide 3.4 243 1.48 years 17

Good target


393 2.40 years


Now I don't mind taking an SPL target of 400 kg or even the 500 kg claimed by Hypor – what I do think is unacceptable is one as low as the all-too-commonly seen 250 kg.

Quite apart from the greater income from more weaners sold for the money invested, look at the damage done to the cashflow by such a short SPL.

For example – it costs about €375 for each replacement gilt to produce her first litter.

The farm with the higher SPL will have already banked nearly €2,500 as income from the 20 or so more finished pigs sold/sow before they need to find the next €375 needed to finance the cost of the replacement gilt and her first litter to weaning.

Their cash flow is far easier. Lack of cash flow punishes businesses, not necessarily lack of profits. Cash flow is the oil on which the profit engine depends.

I've said this many times – "It is not necessarily top performance which counts towards making a sustainable profit from pigs – but the best use of capital resources."


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    call me old fashioned but does not stockmanship and caring for the sow increase her productive life, treating illness immediately not as I have heard frequently on large units, we will note it and see to it tomorrrow. ? And in present climates agree that it is profit not performance that pays bills.

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    Stefan Willenborg

    Dear John,

    the target of 505kg is possible. We have some references of farmer in Germany, achieving the figure. They are weaning 11.8 to 12 piglets/litter with around 7,8 to 8kg weight. They are achieving 5.8 to 6 litters.
    Stefan Willenborg
    Hypor Germany

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    nweke cosmas

    i really want to train pigs but in my area nobody is doing it so that i can learn so sir i need ur help dis my e-mail from nig .God bless u as u cooperate

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    Ånita Leimante

    Thank jou for infarmation!

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    Simple at 3.5 litters at 11 weaned and 10.5 sold = 36.75 pigs sold at 75 kg dw cost of gilt = 375 = 10.2 / pig or 13.6 c/ kg or at 5.0 litters at 11 weaned and 10.5 sold = 52.5 pigs sold at 75kgdw =7.14 or 9.5 c / kg difference at 4.1 c/ kg all pigs sold just multiple by numbers of sows and see what final cost is probably frightening jj

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    Eric Hanson

    Excellent topic and excellent points. Very few articles directly address the financial side of production.

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    Solomon Nemaire

    Please send me detailed workings how you arrived at 243 (SPL - kg weaner weight).

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    John Gadd

    My apologies for the delay in answering your queries/ comments on my blog on SPL (Sow Productive Life), but I have been working abroad.

    jj. Thanks for both your comments. Yes, the cost of 2.5 fewer litters per sow lifetime foregone on the larger herd is indeed tremendous. And of course plenty of TLC on the sow and gilt is vital, as you correctly observe.

    Stefan. Glad you agree with me and that your company in Germany is showing what can be done these days. Keep it up!

    Nweke. I`ll write to you about how to get long distance training in elementary pig husbandry.

    Anita /Eric. Glad you thought the blog worthwhile - thankyou.

    Solomon. 3.4 litters per sow lifetime averaging 11.0 reared per litter is 37.4 weaners. A weaning weight of 6.5 kg is 37.4 x 6.5 = 243.1kg weaner weight per SPL.

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