Benchmarking performance in Ontario swine nursery barns - Ontario Pork - Completed Research
Thursday, April 2, 2020

Completed Research

Ontario Pork has a call for research proposals once a year. These projects were approved for funding by the board on recommendation of the research committee. If you have questions or need further information about the research posted here please contact Cristiane Mesquita at

Completed Research

Benchmarking performance in Ontario swine nursery barns

Benchmarking performance in Ontario swine nursery barns

Project 16-002 - Researchers: Robert Friendship, Terri O’Sullivan, Zvonimir Poljak, Vahab Farzan, Tim Blackwell

Researchers: Robert Friendship, Terri O’Sullivan, Zvonimir Poljak, Vahab Farzan, Tim Blackwell
Graduate students: Emily Hanna, MSc, University of Guelph

Project funded in 2016 and completed in 2018.  FINAL REPORT

The nursery phase of swine production presents many challenges to pigs, often resulting in reduced performance. A poor nursery performance can then negatively impact the grower-finisher performance. Comparing current performance of the herd against a standard measure or benchmarking can assist producers to detect and resolve production challenges more quickly. Some farms keep detailed production records or hire a company to provide benchmarking services. However many farms are not adequately recording nursery performance or are not using production records to guide management decisions. The advantage of participating in benchmarking is that it allows a farm manager to compare data with comparable operations and use this as an opportunity to set achievable goals. 

The goal of this University of Guelph study is to establish benchmark values for nursery performance (gain, feed efficiency, mortality), and determine risk factors for reduced performance in swine nurseries, by collecting data from 50 Ontario swine nurseries. To date a management and biosecurity questionnaire has been administered to producers and herd production records have been gathered. A subset of 20 pigs were ear tagged, blood sampled and weighed at entry and the same pigs sampled and weighed at exit from the nursery. 
In total 49 nurseries were visited. Growth rate was selected as the best objective measure to use in comparing nursery performance. Weighing a subset of 20 pigs appeared to be a useful measure of growth rate and an indicator of variation in the batch, and could be performed on all farms.   The average weights of 20 pigs from the 49 nurseries upon entry into and exit from the nursery were 7.3 kg and 24.8 kg, respectively. The mean average daily gain (ADG) was 451 g/day. Of the 30 farms that were tested for the presence of PRRS virus with PCR, 10 farms tested positive.  There was evidence that on some of the farms diseases such as salmonellosis, influenza and enzootic pneumonia were active in the nursery. These results confirmed that these diseases are remaining on the farms, often in a subclinical manner and infecting weaner pigs as they lose passive protection.

The overall conclusion of this work is that there is wide variation in nursery performance which suggests that there is opportunity for herds to improve. Likewise disease status varies considerably and there needs to be efforts made to improve the immune status of newly weaned pigs and to minimize the likelihood of disease challenge. There is a wide range of antibiotic use in the nursery from farm to farm without an obvious link to performance, suggesting that reduced use of antibiotics should be a goal to strive for.

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