Key Production Indicators


Tom Gillespie

Efficient sow reproduction is fundamental to achieving a successful, sustainable and economically viable swine industry. Many economists have shown us that the swine industry in North America continues to improve on the number of pigs weaned per litter. Therefore, a key production indicator (KPI) used to assess the efficiency of sow performance is the number of pigs weaned per litter, per year, or per lifetime. The modern hyperprolific sow has a great potential to produce numerous quality piglets at weaning. What has developed as a goal for many producers, my clients included, has been the benchmark of 30 piglets weaned per sow per year (PSY). What one finds is that if performance on a sow unit is less than this target, then the farm staff is often emotionally distressed. Because of this emotional distress, action plans that are frequently developed need to include nutritional management, husbandry, environment and healthcare factors that might be limiting performance. But, one needs to ask is this really the KPI that drives cost of production for sow farms?

So the question arises: “Which are the most important aspects of performance to improve and how can they be achieved?” Obviously, the most important KPI is pounds of pork sold per unit being measured. If the unit is a nursery-finisher site then the ultimate question is, “How do we optimize market weight with a reasonable usage of the buildings based on pounds of pork sold per square foot?” If the unit is a sow breed-to-wean facility, then the question is “How do we optimize the number of pigs produced, as well as, the number of quality pigs at weaning?” Substandard pigs often create the need for critical decisions to be made at the sow unit and/or soon after arrival at the nursery. Disease often plays a major role in creating more than the normal number of substandard pigs. Evaluation of production records prior to the walk thru of a unit illustrates both managerial and animal efficiencies. This pertains to both sow and nursery-finish sites although the production parameters examined are much different. In the following illustration, let’s use a sow unit to illustrate KPIs and how facility plus managerial activities intertwine.

“ Which Are The Most Important Aspects Of Performance To Improve And How Can They be Achieved?”

Key Production Indicators

One can quickly look through production records by week, by month, or by year to examine for trends in productivity levels that are achieved, but this is only the beginning of one’s look at KPIs. A change in building design that has occurred over the last three decades has been in the ratio of inventoried sows per farrowing crate. Why is this important? The ratio of inventoried sows per farrowing crate determines how intense the farrowing house management will be. So older facilities were designed with a different thought about throughput in farrowing, so a ratio of seven inventoried sows per farrowing crate was normal. Today, units are being built with five inventoried sows per farrowing crate or sometimes less. The “intensity” of how the management must function is incredibly more extreme in the older facilities then in a unit constructed more recently. This adult animal to farrowing crate ratio impacts weaning age since the number of gestation crates number more to house the number of adult animals desired. With a 7:1 ratio weaning age is often around 17 to 18 days of age, where a ratio of 5:1 allows a 22 day old or older piglet to be weaned. Please note that if you look at average daily gain (ADG) on nursing piglets we will often achieve 0.55 ADG as an average without including the birth weight. Example: Take a 3 pound birth weight and the piglet is weaned at 21 days. The piglet should weigh 3 + (0.55 X 20 days) = 14 pounds at 21 days. Using 0.55 ADG as a benchmark one can quickly calculate if piglets are achieving proper weaning weights given the length of time they are nursing. The profitability of a unit selling weaned pigs is directly proportional to how the contract is designed. Contracts can be constructed to provide “extra” value to the sow herd owner if older and heavier piglets are preferred by the receiving farm.

Another KPI that is often difficult to understand when looking at production records is pre-weaning mortality. Pre-weaning mortality today has received a lot of importance and if one is not achieving 10% or less, farm staff are often again under “pressure”. It was common in our industry at one time to build farrowing rooms that only provided 4.5 feet width per farrowing crate. This allowed for more farrowing crates to be installed; therefore, improving what was known as throughput of the most expensive portion of the sow unit. Today the common width is five feet or greater in some of the newer units. The driving motivation is to provide enough room in the farrowing crate to accommodate the larger number of pigs being born by the modern hyper-prolific sows. The management practices on a farm with more narrow farrowing crates is vastly different than in modern facilities and often leads to a bit higher pre-weaning mortality.

In summary, KPIs can be divided into two main categories: One category is used for benchmarking with another unit or KPIs can be used in a broader benchmarking activity, i.e. across the industry. Each farm is unique in its facility design and managerial efficiencies that are usually reflected in KPIs. The ultimate goal is to improve the overall net value received by a production unit. In-depth discussions that need to occur should demonstrate the impact of the performance targets and profitability. This activity illustrates and establishes where performance parameters, i.e. KPIs, for the farm need to improve with financial evaluation comparing current performance levels to achievable targets. Strategies can then be developed to overcome these deficiencies in production.


KPIs continue to provide a quick overview of how well the unit is performing based on general benchmarking parameters, but an in-depth evaluation needs to occur to see if unique aspects of that unit can be examined to improve performances. KPIs can be utilized to monitor the changes as managerial decisions are made with net profitability in mind. The overall objective of any program is to ensure that the modern pig genotypes achieve their genetic performance potential in an efficient, sustainable and financially valuable manner.

- Tom Gillespie, DVM
Tom Gillespie is the owner and founder ofRensselaer Swine Services.