Progress By Benchmarking

Pork producers can analyze their operations in light of past achievements and the broader industry in order to identify and address areas of improvement.

By Joseph F. Connor

Benchmarking is the process of comparing your business processes and performance metrics to a database, allowing producers to make comparisons of the key drivers for production and profitability. This tool is extremely powerful when all participants use the same record-keeping system, which provides a basis for consistent interpretation.

When analyzing benchmarking data, each producer needs to establish his/her goals for using the information. By tracking data related to genetics, management and health, we can strive for continuous improvement.

If we are looking at the pounds of pork sold per facility space, we should look at both the numbers of pigs produced as well as the quality. When we consider breed-to-wean performance, the most important output is throughout, which includes pigs weaned and weaning weight per day of age.

We use benchmarking to compare key performance indicators to the mean, median, 90th percentile and to a lower 10th percentile. We can also compare performance to that in previous years, identifying industry trends. This benchmarking process can be motivating, as producers continue to find improvements year over year as they manage genetic improvements and their own processes.

By analyzing our operation’s key performance drivers in light of the benchmarking data, we can hopefully identify and implement improvements to our operations.


Let’s discuss the 2017 breed-to-wean PigCHAMP database, which includes 340 farms in the United States and 29 farms in Canada. (Similar comparisons for wean-to-finish and cost of production data are also critical in decision-making.)

Within the dataset, the variation within each variable is large, showing the range between operations. Overall, this variation provides a significant motivation for improvement – if one producer can improve a specific element of his/ her operation, perhaps you can too.

As you analyze benchmarking data, remember that each variable may be independent of another variable. One operation could be in the upper 10th percentile for one variable but in the lower 10th percentile for a different variable. As an example, percent repeat services was 12.93 percent for the upper 10th percentile and 1.75 percent for the lower 10th percentile. With this specific variable, however, producers would strive to be in the lower percentile.

Keep in mind, too, that the percentile target can shift by variable, as this target is dependent on herds and facilities. An operation can have a 90th percentile target for total born, for example, but may have a 50th percentile for preweaning mortality because of its farrowing facilities.

In the 2017 PigCHAMP data, producers in the upper 10th percentile averaged 15.44 total pigs born/litter. If total born is low for the particular genetics, drivers include wean gilt health, days of stall acclimation before service, and percentage serviced on second or third estrus.

The average number of pigs born alive per litter was 13.89, equating to 32.27 liveborn/female/ year. Stillbirths per litter averaged 1.08. In the upper 10th percentile, stillbirths averaged 1.53 and, in the lower 10th percentile, they averaged 0.67. Producers can often decrease the number of stillbirths through such tactics as extended care.

Farrowing rate in the upper 10th percentile was 90.68 percent. Other producers, however, have reported a slight downward trend with regard to this variable.

The pre-weaning mortality mean was 14.69 percent. Producers in the upper 10th percentile had a mortality of 19.42 percent, while the lower 10th percentile had a mortality of 9.61 percent.

As with the frequency of stillborns, producers can often make improvements to decrease pre-weaning mortality. Drivers in this area include birth weight, piglet viability and environment. This variable is heavily influenced by staff, highlighting the importance of consistent operating practices. Staff turnover creates an ongoing need for education to ensure new team members understand and follow best practices. Staff of highly productive herds are able to maintain consistent daily organization.

In the 2017 dataset, average wean sow mortality was 10.73 percent, with the upper 10th percentile at 15.5 and lower 10th percentile at 6.36. Our industry is increasingly focused on wean sow mortality, as researchers have noted an upward trend in these deaths. Drivers of wean sow mortality include an increase in prolapses (uterine, rectal, vaginal), timely euthanasia and open pen housing.

Producers can derive benefits from benchmarking – both comparing their operations to the broader industry and tracking trends over time.

When using variables, it’s helpful to set a target for the percentile that you would like your team to achieve. Teams can find motivation for improvement when they have clear understandings of areas of opportunity. Understanding the “why” and the “how” helps staff achieve their targets. To derive the most benefit from benchmarking, and to help ensure your team can meet its goals, you should aim for timely comparisons to the benchmarks throughout the year.

Dr. Joseph F. Connor
Founder and president of Carthage Group. Dr. Joseph F. Connor, DVM, MS, has received numerous industry awards for outstanding lifelong service to the profession. Connor obtained his doctor of veterinary medicine from the University of Illinois in 1976 and a master’s of science in veterinary medicine from the University of Minnesota in 2006. He completed the executive veterinary program in 2009 at the University of Illinois.

The Carthage Group provides swine veterinary and management consulting services to the pork industry throughout the United States and East Asia. Carthage Group includes Carthage Veterinary Service, Ltd., Professional Swine Management, LLC, Carthage Innovative Swine Solutions, LLC, and other subsidiaries.