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U.S. pig farmers at top of gameU.S. pig farmers at top of game

Hog Outlook: Pigs weaned per litter hits record level.

Kevin Schulz

October 9, 2023

2 Min Read
piglets nursing from sow's teats
HEALTHY PIGS: Herd health starts in the farrowing room, and according to the most recent Hogs & Pigs Report, U.S. pig farmers weaned 11.61 pigs per litter in the June to August period.Courtesy of National Pork Board

American pig farmers know how to raise pigs: it’s what they do; it’s in their blood. And they are very good at it and getting better.

Among the many data points in the most recent quarterly Hogs & Pigs Report is the fact that the number of pigs weaned per litter continues its upward trajectory. Per the late-September report issued by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, an average of 11.61 pigs were weaned per litter in the June-to-August quarter.

That is a record, and up from 11.13 weaned per litter for the same period in the last two years. That per-litter increase is part of the reason the 34.2 million pigs total weaned in the quarter were up slightly from one year earlier.

This report, giving U.S. hog herd stats as of Sept. 1, shows there were 74.3 million hogs and pigs on U.S. farms, up slightly from a year ago, and up 2% from June 1 of this year. Of those total hogs, 68.2 million were market hogs, while 6.08 million were kept for breeding.

A lot of eyes were on that breeding herd number, which was expected to be lower largely due to the aggressive sow culling in June, July and August. The ratio of the number of sows that went to market relative to the June 1 breeding herd is the highest it’s been since 2012.

Future liquidation

A question that remains is, what is the gilt replacement rate? Sow slaughter increased year-over-year by about 72,000 head during June-August and just over 6,000 more were imported compared to a year ago.

Some industry leaders feel the sow liquidation will continue.

I feel some of this continued liquidation will involve producers who have said “enough.” Those who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Those who have dusted off their crystal ball and do not see a bright future in the hog world. Some of those producers who are nearing retirement, with no one to take over the operation.

The way I see it, we may also see some liquidation to meet the writing on the wall. As California’s Prop 12 calls for more space for sows, some producers may go the route to cut the sow herd rather than remodel to meet those requirements.

Of course, the industry is closely monitoring what other state legislatures are doing in the way of further animal agriculture restrictions to possibly be enacted. Who’s to say that another state won’t enforce even more square feet per sow, and then another state takes it a step further, and so on and so on?

Schulz, editor of sister publication The Farmer, grew up on the family hog farm in southern Minnesota, before a career in ag journalism, including National Hog Farmer.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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