You may have heard the hog industry is facing some challenges. As a pig farmer, it’s not a lot of fun. There are many issues going on and I am going to try and break down what I feel are the main problems.
Prices are Low
Ouch! The market price for hogs is low. Pig farmers have lost money for the last 12-14 months. In December, we sold hogs on the open market and received $100 per 280 pound pig. When we purchased the pigs at 3 weeks of age and weighing 13-15 pounds, we paid $55 per pig. I can assure you the cost from the purchase of a 15 pound pig to 280 pounds (plus 6 months of raising them) is well over $100.
The most common thing you hear is, “well, you know farming is a rollercoaster.” Yes, that is correct.
But, it doesn’t make us feel better. Imagine working 6 months and not only not receiving a paycheck, but having to pay in. Not fun.
You may be wondering, how can we continue? It’s called diversity. We also raise corn and soybeans. So when one is down, hopefully another commodity picks up the slack. And of course as I say this, both corn and soybean markets are on a downward trend.
PRRS Disease is Wreaking Havic
Let’s go right to the issue. PRRS is a terrible virus and very hard to control. PRRS stands for Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome. The virus makes pigs (sows, piglets and finishers) sick. If a sow farm contracts the disease, there is a good chance of 100% newborn fatalities. Nursery pigs can be about 70%, growers at 20%and sows at 10%. And realizing there is no much you can do about it.
So what can we do? Work with a veterinarian and treat the symptoms the best you can. Pigs will die and the rest do not feel good.
Is there a vaccine for PRRS?
Yes there is. But like viruses do what they do best–they mutate. We have tried the PRRS vaccine with not much success.
How can you prevent PRRS?
Biosecurity is top on the list. Making sure you have clean boots and clothes when going into the barns. Making sure no one else goes into the barns. Because PRRS can be transmitted by air, some farmers have put filters on the barns. We tried that on the sow farm we were part owners of with no effect. Yes, a million dollars later and the sows still contracted PRRS. It can also be transmitted through feed.
So what can you do?
Hog density does make it very hard to control the virus. The trend is to house sows where there are fewer pigs around.
The bottom line is sick pigs cost money.
Where is the future in pig health? I think there is some promising work in gene editing. But the biggest question is whether consumers will accept it.
Cost of inputs are too high
As with everything else, input costs are high–higher than ever. As an example, the costs in 2023 were 53% higher than 2020. That is significant. Costs need to come down.
Prop 12 issues
California voters chose to say they only want pork (and other meat) sold in their state that meet certain space requirements for sows. Needless to say, there are not many farms that meet these requirements. In order to meet the requirements, farmers will need to spend will thousands of dollars.
Will the meat be any better with Prop 12?
No, because the space requirements are for the sows – not the pigs that go to market. Right now, most sows are housed in stalls. The main to house them in stalls is to take better care of them.
Sows have a social hierachy where they have to determine who is “king” sow. The way they do that is to fight each other. Personally, we have had sows die on our farm because another sow attacked it. Not a pretty sight. Putting them inside barns with stalls, they don’t have to worry about being attacked. Also, we can make sure they have enough food and given any personal medical attention if needed.
I am also hearing from farms that are Prop 12 compliant, they deal with sows being beat up (scratch and bite marks) as well as a risk for workers. Sows are 450 pounds and can be aggressive. And yes, they will eat you given a chance. (Sorry, for the gory truth).
We are hearing there are certain packers who only want “Prop 12” compliant farms. This puts a stress on the industry because it limits where one can sell their hogs. This is new as we have never had these issues in the past. We are hearing some pig farmers having to truck their hogs quite a distance. With that, the transportation costs are high, which adds to the high costs.
Too much pork
Demand is down. Sows are more productive which means bigger litters. We simply are producing more pork than we are consuming. The supply vs. demand economic equation dictates that high supply means lower prices.
News reports say we are exporting more hogs but it’s not reflected in the pricing. At least not yet.
There is a lot of turmoil going on right now. Yes, I have no doubt things will turn around but the industry will probably look different. I feel it’s going to be harder for the independent pig farmer to continue. I think we will see more and more contract growers, which does take some of the risk out of the market for the producer. Large farms will become larger.
It’s just not much fun right now.