What to do if your pork packing plant is closed
- Pig wellbeing should be your number one priority when considering how best to manage a pork packing plant closure.
- When facing a plant closure, contact your buyer to learn about how you will be affected.
- It may be best to slow pig growth rate.
- You may need to consider decreasing pen space, alternative markets and euthanasia.
Has your pork packing plant closed due to an unprecedented event while you have pigs scheduled to ship in the near future?
The strategies outlined below are temporary for emergency situations. The wellbeing of the pigs should be your number one priority when considering how best to manage a pork packing plant closure. Additional pig observation is recommended when implementing any of these options.
Communicate with your buyer
When facing a plant closure, contact your buyer to learn about how you will be affected.
- Pork packers with other plant locations may re-route some pigs to other plants.
- Plants may expand harvesting hours to include Saturday and Sunday.
- Ask your buyer the maximum weight of pig your packer will accept.
- Re-routing won't accommodate all pigs scheduled to be received by closed plants, so you will still need a contingency plan.
Slowing animal growth rate
Typically it is the goal of producers to optimize growth rate of grow-finish pigs to maximize pig performance and profitability. However, sometimes situations may arise where it is best to slow growth rate. These situations might include when the movement of animals to market is delayed or impaired due to an animal standstill that could occur during a foreign animal disease outbreak or when access to pork packing plants is temporarily suspended or delayed.
Consult with a swine nutritionist to make sure diets are balanced to meet minimum nutritional needs of the pigs.
- Check economics: it may be more economical to market a heavier pig than alter the diet.
- Consider the duration (days vs. weeks) and intensity (20-50% reduction) needed to achieve the desired reduction in number and schedule of pigs to market.
Lower energy and increase fiber content of diet
- Remove all fat sources and increase fiber content to at least 20% NDF levels to reduce energy intake. This will decrease energy levels of the diet and increase fiber and pigs will get too full to eat enough feed to meet their energy requirements.
- Common high fiber swine feed ingredients include dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS), wheat midds, soy hulls and corn germ meal. Some of these products may not be readily available in your area.
- This strategy can be implemented early in the growth period as well as in later growth periods.
Lower protein and amino acid levels
- Reducing crude protein and essential amino acid levels will reduce growth rate, but the nutrient reduction has to be in the range of 30-40%.
- Beware that loin eye area will decrease and back fat thickness will increase depending on the extent and duration of amino acid restrictions.
Use calcium chloride (CaCl)
- Anhydrous calcium chloride is a salt that can be added to reduce feed intake of pigs.
- This strategy will require significant diet modifications such as balancing electrolytes, calcium and phosphorus. Consult with a qualified swine nutritionist before doing this.
- You must provide a readily available, constant supply of water to avoid poisoning when using CaCl. This is a short-term strategy (a couple weeks) for pigs approaching market weight that is not recommended for lighter weight, growing pigs.
Restrict access to feed
- Tighten openings on self-feeders so that about 15-20% of the feed pan is covered with feed. Be sure to monitor feeders for any that become clogged.
- If facilities allow, consider hand feeding pigs daily instead of letting them eat freely. But be aware that this strategy could increase aggressive behavior in pigs.
Raise barn temperature
- Pigs do not eat well in hot weather, which slows gains. Allowing the barn to warm up will reduce feed intake. Every two degrees Fahrenheit above the pig’s thermoneutral zone can reduce feed intake by about 0.1 lb/day. The impact will be much greater when humidity levels are high.
- The only practical way to increase barn temperature is to reduce ventilation rates. This will increase temperature and humidity levels.
- If ventilation rates are reduced too much, there may be excessive increases in moisture and noxious gases inside the barn which could compromise safety of workers and welfare of pigs.
- The minimum recommended ventilation rate in summer is approximately 12 times that of the winter minimum ventilation rate, which is also dependent on pig size. Be sure to meet this rate consistently to maintain animal well-being and human safety.
- Consult with a barn ventilation expert to make sure this strategy is viable and safe.
Other items to consider
Check with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to see if there is regulatory flexibility to exceed livestock permit numbers or exceed 1,000 animal units without obtaining NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) or SDS (State Disposal System) permits in total confinement facilities. In certain circumstances, they may offer approval to exceed permit numbers and stocking density of livestock on farms.
There are many small scale meat processors in Minnesota. Contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture for help in identifying opportunities for livestock owners who need meat processing because of plant closure and lost markets.
- As a last resort, some pigs may need to be euthanized.
- Be sure to use methods that comply with the current American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) guidelines for euthanasia in the On-Farm Euthanasia of Swine. If you need to depopulate large numbers of pigs, be sure methods comply with the AASV Recommendations for Depopulation of Swine.
- Consult with your herd veterinarian prior to euthanizing any pigs.
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health has information on carcass disposal questions such as:
- How to source carbon sources if you plan to compost.
- How to choose a site for composting on your farm and how to form a compost pile correctly.
- What you need to know about rendering and what steps you should take to work with a rendering company.
Visit the composting livestock and poultry carcasses page for more information on constructing a carcass compost pile.
Farmer stress resources
First and foremost farmers need to take care of themselves and their families. Extension’s farm and rural stress task force offers resources for those dealing with farming’s challenges and struggles.
Call the Minnesota farm and rural helpline anytime at 1-833-600-2670 to speak to someone. Visit the Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline website for more information and resources.
How to butcher a pig
With few Extension resources available on butchering, Sarah Schieck Boelke, Ryan Cox, Dallas Dornink and Lee Johnston created a video on how to butcher a pig for home use. The video discusses human safety, pig welfare and food safety.
Reduced operations at pork processing facilities can cause pig farmers to experience bottlenecks of pigs on farms that can make it necessary to look for alternative market options.
One option is for a farmer to sell a live pig directly to a consumer. The consumer typically would book an appointment with a local small scale meat processor in Minnesota to get the pig butchered, but, as in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, small scale meat processors may also be overloaded.
When there is no space available at a local processor and a pig that is ready for butchering, people may choose to butcher the pig themselves.
Before you begin the butchering process be sure you know what you are doing by checking out these resources:
- Know if a Minnesota meat processor near you has the availability to butcher the pig for you.
- Read Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Slaughtering Animals on Farms.
- Know how to properly dispose of the carcass remains using the Minnesota Board of Animal Health's carcass disposal guidelines.
- Pork Carcass Fabrication: Primal and Retail Cuts fact sheet by South Dakota State University Extension Meat Science Specialist Amanda Blair.
- Pork retail cuts poster by National Pork Board.
Reviewed in 2020