Swine Production in the United States

  • The Past: Traditionally, pigs were kept as an adjunct to the cropping enterprise and used to add value to corn when corn prices were down. Very little effort was spent to improve the genetic base, optimize productivity, or to foster consumer acceptance of pork as a commodity in its own right.
  • Emergence: As producers began to realize that inputs to the swine enterprise led to significant returns, it began to grow in importance as a profit center and in the marketplace for food. Rapid gains were made in productivity as management inputs were fine-tuned.

Swine production facility on a remote hilltop.

This facility in rural PA sits on a hilltop in a remote location.

  • Consolidation: The modern swine industry has become specialized and farm sizes have grown as economies of scale are sought. The number of large farms has grown exponentially to the extent that most of the marketplace is controlled by farms of more than 2000 head each. Coincident with this, swine producers have evolved into pork producers.
  • Challenges: Swine producers strive to minimize production costs while optimizing productivity and product quality while reducing environmental impact (waste and odor) and avoiding social impact on the community.

This is a waste lagoon. You could not see it behind and to the left on the PA facility image shown above.

  • Constraints These factors offer real constraints to the growth of the swine industry in the U.S. For example, as of June, 1997, North Carolina is still considering a two-year moratorium on all new construction of or on existing swine facilities ostensibly because of public concern over waste management issues. In other states minimum setbacks and maximum farm sizes have been set to prevent undue social impact.

Meeting Market Challenges

Within the industry, important issues regarding market access and development are shaping the future of the swine industry. Integration of pig production and processing, and enhancing marketing options through producer cooperatives are allowing greater control over financial returns and insulating producers from market risk.

A two-day old litter of piglets suckles on the sow.

These piglets have approximately 6 months ahead of them before they go to market. (3 weeks nursing, 7 weeks in the nursery, and 16 weeks of grow-finish)

Producers strive for high quality pork for the consumer through chemical residue avoidance, microbial contamination avoidance, and improvement of pork's physical properties like fat, color, and firmness). The competitive U.S. market demands low prices for the highest value and the swine industry responds to this challenge by reducing production costs and improving genetic quality.

The National Picture

Currently, swine production varies greatly between the states. picture of iowaIowa is the top state for annual marketings, with picture north carolinaNorth Carolina being a distant second. (North Carolina, however, farrowed more sows than Iowa in December 1996.) While some states have a slow and steady increase or decline in hog herds, the industry shifts can occur very suddenly. Oklahoma had a 359% increase in breeding herd size from '90-'95, moving Oklahoma into the top 10 states in total hogs. Watch as laws in South Dakota continue to lock out progress as South Dakota's market share slipped 28% from '91-'96.*

Annual Marketings by State, 1996*
("marketings"= performance in breeding breed + market hogs to slaughter + total market share)

ImageMap - Better use Netscape 2.0+

Iowa and North Carolina hold top hog rankings in the country. (Click on the map to see your state's ranking.) The industry is moving generally west and south, with Oklahoma, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado topping the list of states with increased market share. Environmental rules have put some pressure on production to relocate to more welcoming states. The trend of loss of market share in the traditional Upper Midwest Hog Belt may be due to changing and tightening local ordinances placed specifically on hog operations which govern distance of a farm from neighbors, handling of waste, even moratoriums on any new hog site construction, including improvements to existing family hog farms.*

Focus on Oklahoma: an exemplary swine state of the future

Favorable Conditions for Swine Production in Oklahoma*

  • mild ambient temperature
  • proximity to grain
  • sparse human populations (easier to adhere to setback laws)
  • Even though there are water management concerns, a 2,400 sow farm needs 40-50 gallons/min, compared to an irrigation pump which uses 2,000gal/min
  • packing plants nearby
  • local communities interested in jobs

*summarized from National Hog Farmer, May '97.


Copyright 1997 by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
Faculty: Dr. Paul Pitcher
Student: Sandra Springer,'99