A speech given at a veterinary conference in August zeroes in on a key constraint to productivity in China's hog industry: Chinese sows don't produce enough piglets.
According to the speaker U.S. sows produce an average of 24.35 pigs per year, far higher than the average of about 15 for Chinese sows. In Denmark the average is over 27. The key to improving productivity and reducing costs is to increase the number of pigs per sow.
The speaker observes that U.S. farms have high costs of facilities and labor that they have to spread over larger numbers of pigs to bring down unit costs. The breakeven number of pigs per sow for U.S. farms, he says, is 19. He reports that two big American companies increased the number of finished hogs produced while cutting back on the number of sows.
According to the speaker, the breeds and feeds (corn-soy meal) are similar in the U.S. and China, so why should Chinese sows be less productive? He says the big problem is weaker disease control and prevention in China. Diseases have the most effect on sows and young pigs. He says most Chinese sows produce no more than 15 pigs a year since their reproduction is affected by blue ear disease, circovirus, pseudorabies, classical swine fever, sow’s reproduction. Sows can be in production less than 4 years, and culling rates are relatively high, raising the cost of producing meat animals. Loss of gilts makes it hard to re-stock sow inventories.
He says that most U.S. farms reduced their mortality rates by 40% or more by using a new circovirus vaccine. However, he says few Chinese farmers vaccinate against circovirus because they don't want to pay for the vaccine. He points out that the vaccine is cost-effective: the extra income from reducing mortality by 3 pigs per litter would more than offset the expense of vaccine and the extra income would be substantial spread over a 1000-sow operation, each producing 2 litters per year.