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What to do if your pork packing plant is closed

Quick facts

  • Pig well-being 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 stocking densities, seeking other markets, or euthanasia.

Has your pork packing plant closed due to an unexpected event while you have pigs scheduled to ship in the near future?

The strategies outlined below are temporary for emergencies. The well-being of the pigs should be your number one priority when considering how best to manage a pork packing plant closure. We recommend additional pig observation 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. 
  • The other locations may expand harvesting hours to include weekends to accommodate closed plants.  
  • Re-routing won't accommodate all pigs scheduled to be received by closed plants, so you will still need a contingency plan.
  • Ask your buyer the maximum weight of pig your packer will accept.

Slowing animal growth rate

Typically your goal as a producer is to optimize the growth rate of grow-finish pigs to maximize pig performance and profitability. However, sometimes events may arise, where it is best to slow growth rate. These events might include delayed or impaired movement of animals to market. For example, an animal standstill could occur during a foreign animal disease outbreak, or access to pork packing plants could be temporarily suspended or delayed.

Nutritional strategies to slow growth rate

Consult with a swine nutritionist to ensure diets are balanced to meet the minimum nutritional needs of the pigs. 

  • Check economics: it may be more economical to market a heavier pig than to alter the diet. 
  • Consider the duration (days vs. weeks) and intensity (20 to 50 percent reduction) needed to achieve the desired reduction in numbers and schedule of pigs to market.

Lower energy and increase diet fiber content

  • Reduce energy intake by removing all fat sources and increasing fiber content to at least 20 percent neutral detergent fiber levels.
    • These changes will decrease the energy levels of the diet and increase fiber intake.
    • The 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 middlings, soy hulls and corn germ meal. Some of these products may not be readily available in your area.
  • You can start this strategy early on or later in the growth period.

Lower protein and amino acid levels

  • Reducing crude protein and essential amino acid levels by 30 to 40 percent will reduce growth rate.
  • Beware that the loin eye area will decrease and backfat thickness will increase depending on the extent and duration of amino acid restrictions.

Use calcium chloride (CaCl)

  • Anhydrous calcium chloride is a salt that you can add to pig diets to reduce feed intake.
  • This strategy will require significant changes in diet 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.
  • Feeding CaCl is a short-term strategy (a couple of weeks) for pigs approaching market weight. We do not recommend it for lighter-weight, growing pigs. 

Management strategies to slow growth rate

Restrict access to feed

  • Tighten openings on self-feeders so that feed covers about 15 to 20 percent of the feed pan. Be sure to monitor feeders for any clogs.
  • If facilities allow, consider hand feeding pigs daily instead of letting them eat freely. But beware 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 pound per 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. Lower ventilation will increase temperature and humidity levels. 
    • If you reduce ventilation rates too much, high moisture and noxious gases may build up inside the barn, which could compromise the safety of workers and pig welfare.
  • Minimum summer ventilation rates should be about 12 times greater than minimum winter ventilation rates. But, rates also depend on pig size.
    • Be sure you consistently achieve the minimum needed air exchange to maintain animal well-being and human safety.
  • Consult with a barn ventilation expert to ensure this strategy is viable and safe.

Stocking density

Check with a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Feedlot Officer 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 cases, they may offer approval to exceed permit numbers and stocking density of livestock on farms.

Alternative markets

There are many small-scale meat processors in Minnesota. Contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture or help finding a meat processor when faced with a plant closure and lost markets.


  • As a last resort, some pigs may need to be depopulated.
  • Know the difference between euthanasia and depopulation. 
    • Euthanasia occurs normally on the farm. It involves transitioning an animal or a small number of animals to death as painlessly and stress-free as possible. 
    • Depopulation is a method for larger numbers of animals that must be destroyed quickly and efficiently while considering their welfare.
  • If an animal needs euthanasia be sure to use methods that comply with the current American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) guidelines for euthanasia
  • If a herd needs depopulation use methods that comply with current AASV Recommendations for the Depopulation of Swine.
  • Consult with your herd veterinarian before euthanizing any pigs.

Carcass disposal

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

Extension educators created a video on how to butcher a pig for home use. The video discusses human safety, pig welfare and food safety.


Author: Sarah Schieck Boelke, Extension swine educator

Reviewed in 2024

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