Let’s Be Honest About Pork Industry Challenges and Opportunities

Mar 18, 2024

Embarrassing. Disappointing. Not something to be proud of. No one wants to share news like that. Yet, while listening to some of the brightest minds discuss hard topics like sow mortality and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, I am reminded change won’t happen unless we get honest with ourselves.

The pork industry has made many amazing advancements. However, challenging markets, loss of domestic demand, a shrinking labor pool, foreign animal disease threats and more make raising pigs today hard.

I’ve always been told when you hear a message repeated, it’s worth a little discussion. At the Ohio Pork Congress, Pipestone veterinarian Cara Haden said the U.S. currently has the worst finishing mortality of any of the major swine-producing countries. 

“We need to take that very seriously. Being dead last in the world for finishing mortality is not something the U.S. swine industry should be proud of,” Haden says. 

During the American Association of Swine Veterinarians annual meeting, Amy Maschhoff, director of health and animal care at The Maschhoffs, shared similar sentiments. 

“The U.S. pork industry may be standing on the podium for overall profitability according to previous research, but I think we need to ask ourselves if we are winning on all fronts. For someone who cares about animal health and welfare, our mortality problem is frankly embarrassing,” Maschhoff says.

In 2023, grow-finish mortality reached an all-time high, around 7.61%, according to MetaFarms data. Sow mortality hit an all-time high of 15.3%, explains Brad Eckberg, a business analyst at MetaFarms, Inc.

It would be nice if one change could fix this problem, but we know it’s not that simple. Eckberg believes one of the best ways to improve mortality on the farm is to focus on animal husbandry.  

Not only is it the right thing to do for the animal, but science shows how improving animal husbandry improves animal performance and profitability. I’ve always been drawn to people who love animals. We need to find and develop more people who are passionate about animals. I am excited to share our newest series, “Barn Heroes.”

Learn how Summer Doty earned the title of barn hero for her contributions at Islercrest Farms. 

“Our No. 1 goal on our farm is always to take the best care possible of our animals,” says co-owner Nathan Isler. “A person who excels at doing this, who can identify and put an animal’s needs above all else, is a barn hero.” 

I can’t wait to uncover more stories of real heroes in the barn – employees who go above and beyond for the sake of the pig. I don’t know what celebrating the people who work hard in our barns will result in, but I know it’s worth talking about more. 

Averages don’t always show just how good our top farms are when it comes to reducing mortality. We have reason to be optimistic because great improvement is happening. But we need to have hard conversations and be realistic, too.  

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