Sign up now!
Don't show this again
Download the report!Continue to Site >
or wait 7 secs

Thank you for confirming your subscription!

(And remember, if ever you want to change your email preferences or unsubscribe, just click on the links at the bottom of any email.)

We’re glad you’re enjoying Pig Health Today.
Access is free but you’ll need to register to view more content.
Already registered? Sign In
Tap to download the app


Collect articles and features into your own report to read later, print or share with others

Create a New Report


Read Later

Create a new report

Report title (required) Brief description (optional)
follow us

You must be logged in to edit your profile.

Favorites Read Later My Reports PHT Special Reports
Pig Health Today is equipped with some amazing (and free) tools for organizing and sharing content, as well as creating your own magazines and special reports. To access them, please register today.
Sponsored by Zoetis

Pig Health Today | Sponsored by Zoetis


Measuring the direct and indirect costs of sow mortality

Everyone knows that a breeding female is a valuable asset because it drives the farm’s downstream production. But the costs involved in getting a replacement gilt ready to enter the breeding herd or to keep a sow there are less clear to caregivers and even managers.

When breeding animals die, are culled prematurely, or need to be humanely euthanized, there are direct costs involved with the outcome, but the indirect costs are less obvious.

It’s easy enough to look at vaccine, medication, feed and labor costs, “but there are more subtle costs,” said Dyneah Classen, DVM, Carthage Veterinary Service. “I want a better understanding on the economics of a dead sow or premature culling; I want to share that information with my production team.”

Panelists at an industry roundtable, “Optimum sow care: Keys to improving well-being and longevity,” discussed some of the impacts of premature gilt and sow losses.

Paying a price

Although costs in every part of hog production vary from farm to farm, some basic calculations can offer a starting point for the question: What’s the cost of a dead sow? Ron Ketchem, co-owner of Swine Management Systems, shared this perspective from his database of more than 1.5 million sows:

  • Cost to develop a replacement gilt: $320
  • Annual feed cost per sow: 2,300 pounds x $270 per ton = $310.50 ÷ 2.5 litters = $124.20
  • Vaccination: $5 per litter
  • If the sow dies in late gestation or during farrowing the loss of 11 pigs x $35 per pig = $385
  • Estimated cull-salvage value of the sow: 450 pounds x $35/cwt. = $157.50
  • Total cost for a dead sow:  $991.70

“So, it’s close to $1,000 every time you lose a sow,” Ketchem pointed out.

While the loss of the sow is clearly evident, he emphasized that it’s the loss of the litter that’s disturbing and too often overlooked. And it carries no small impact. “Most of our data are showing us that 30+% of our sow deaths fall in the 9-day period from 3 days before they farrow to 6 days after,” he noted. “So, what do we do about that? How are our people in the farrowing house trained?”

Equally important, he asked the group “why are we not finding that (compromised) animal starting 2 or 3 weeks earlier?”

Hidden costs

Two other costs have shown up. One is that sow mortality forces down a herd’s parity profile.

“We’ve seen time and time again that P1 progeny have lower levels of performance and higher mortality in the nursery,” said John Deen, DVM, University of Minnesota epidemiologist. Research suggests that this is due to first-litter gilts having not fully matured, including the immunity levels passed on to their piglets.

“I think there’s some evidence that it has a population effect as well. We have to be concerned about that,” he added. Downstream growth appears to lag behind in these early-parity litters compared with their contemporaries.

Another lesser considered cost is the impact on labor. Deen pointed to a survey he conducted around the debate between gestation stalls and pens, which asked caregivers if there were major animal welfare concerns. He found that stalls didn’t necessarily present a welfare concern; rather a nearly universal response cited the difficulty of removing downer and dead sows.

“We have to listen to that as well,” he added. Having to remove downer or dead sows from stalls “wears on our workers in ways that we really haven’t measured.” Not only is it physically challenging, but emotionally as well for many sow-barn workers, and there is a cost to that.

The economics of culling

The cull-sow market can influence sow mortality rates in subtle ways. Culled sows don’t contribute to mortality levels, yet they may not be meeting their expected contribution to the herd.

Depending on the economic climate, there are times when a culled sow is worth more than the purchase of a gilt,” Classen said. “Any time that occurs, you’re moving culled sows more frequently.”

The farms she oversees run a 50% replacement rate, which limits their sow mortality rates. “I’ve always said it’s easier to solve a sow-death-loss problem with culling than with treatment,” she noted. “It’s much easier to walk a sow off of a farm and onto a cull truck than it is to get the dead sow out.” She added that culling practices on those farms have improved sow health and overall productivity.

Brigitte Mason, DVM, Country View Family Farms, shared the operation’s culling strategy with fellow roundtable participants. Originally, the strategy was to have a cull truck come to the sow farms every week, but to reduce trucking costs they dropped it to once every 2 weeks or more. “We found that in the end, we were euthanizing more animals because the farms didn’t have the ability to cull animals sooner,” she said. “We saw a large increase in sows destroyed, so we resumed having trucks at the farm weekly.”

As a sidenote, she emphasized the importance of reviewing composting facilities and machinery to manage the farm’s sow mortality and building in extra capacity.  “Our environmental manager is pulling his hair out because we’re not designed to handle 10% to 15% sow mortality,” she said.

While building in some extra space into a composting site would increase costs for the farm initially, it would pay off in the long run for labor and environmental management.

Editor’s note: This information was adapted from “Optimum Sow Care: Keys to improving well-being and longevity,” highlights of a sow-care roundtable discussion sponsored by Zoetis. To download a free copy, click here.

Share It
When breeding animals die, are culled prematurely, or need to be humanely euthanized, there are direct costs involved with the outcome, but the indirect costs are less obvious.

Click an icon to share this information with your industry contacts.

Posted on September 4, 2021

tags: , , , , ,
  • Deen: We’re underestimating the cost of sow mortality

    When a sow doesn’t reach her full potential, the cost to the farm and the income stream of the sow herd is often “grossly underestimated,” said John Deen, DVM, PhD, University of Minnesota.

  • Reduce sow mortality with documentation and intervention

    The cause of high sow-mortality rates may be tough to determine, but producers can take steps to address the problems and lower rates, according to Randy Jones, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service.

  • Research continues to dig for POP answers

    Searching for strategies to alter the course of pelvic organ prolapse (POP) in sows has been a long, slow climb with progress coming little by little. At the heart of the effort is the Sow Survivability project

  • Sow mortality records need an overhaul

    The upward trendline of sow mortality needs to be addressed. But until farms have a clearer understanding of why a gilt or sow leaves the breeding herd, progress will be limited.

You must be logged in to edit your profile.

Share It
When a sow doesn’t reach her full potential, the cost to the farm and the income stream of the sow herd is often “grossly underestimated,” said John Deen, DVM, PhD, a professor at the University of Minnesota.

Click an icon to share this information with your industry contacts.
Google Translate is provided on this website as a reference tool. However, Poultry Health Today and its sponsor and affiliates do not guarantee in any way the accuracy of the translated content and are not responsible for any event resulting from the use of the translation provided by Google. By choosing a language other than English from the Google Translate menu, the user agrees to withhold all liability and/or damage that may occur to the user by depending on or using the translation by Google.