THE BIGGEST factors influencing pig profitability are pigs sold per sow, in feed costs, healthcare costs and slaughter weight variations, according to benchmarking figures from 50 units in Northern Ireland.

Results from the financial year ending March 2004, highlight four important factors influencing profits, according to Mark Hawe and Liz Donnelly, pig technologists at Greenmount College, Co Antrim, who oversee the benchmarking service.

Dr Hawe said benchmarking has clearly shown the profit is influenced by pigs sold per sow a year.

While many units are in the average range of 19.5 to 20 pigs, there is a six pig a sow difference between the top and bottom units.

“Units with low numbers of pigs sold per sow have higher production costs, because costs are spread over reduced output.”

The figures also show a 20p/kg variation in feed costs between units feeding compound feed.

There are many factors which influence this, but one of the most beneficial is slaughter weight, said Dr Hawe.

“Some units have made good money by keeping pigs a week longer. But the effect on the whole unit must be considered, particularly space available and genetics.

“Care is also needed to ensure it is efficient by not going to extreme weights. Pigs lay down more fat as they get heavier and become less efficient, so keep a check on slaughter data,” he advised.

Slaughter weights from the farms varied by 17kg, he added.

Many farms are forced to sell pigs because of cashflow or lack of space, but some units sell pigs at a range of weights and could select them more carefully.

“It is impractical to weigh every pig, particularly on large units, so selecting by eye is the only option. But check slaughter data quarterly to see the average and variation of pigs sold to see how well you are selecting them,” he said.

He also cited feed waste – through poorly managed or maintained feeders, inadequate supply of water and feeding too high a specification ration as causes of increased feed costs.

Many units keep pigs on one ration for each of the three growth periods, but manually feeding pigs an initial ration or moving pigs onto the second stage ration sooner can reduce costs, he added.

Home-mixing can be another way to reduce feed costs on some units. But Dr Hawe warned this is not always so.

What is saved in ingredient costs can easily be lost in labour and machinery costs, unless there is labour to spare.

Adding pressure to staff can also reduce pig performance, he warned.

Benchmarking also shows differences in healthcare costs of £7 a pig, but tackling this means finding ways to keep stock healthier, said Dr Hawe.

All-in, all-out systems and partial or full depopulations of units can reduce disease levels.

“But at Greenmount we have had a fantastic response to a three-week batch system. Allowing houses to dry between batches has reduced disease and production costs,” explained Dr Hawe.