Healthy Pigs Improve Pork Sustainability

Posted by on January 25th, 2018 | 0 Comments »


In 1989 - just 30 years ago - the U.S. had to import pork in order to meet the growing demand from American consumers. Today, not only are hog farmers producing enough to meet domestic demand, nearly 26 percent of the pork produced in the U.S. is exported to more than 100 countries. [1]

In 2016, 41 percent of U.S. pork exports, worth $2 billion dollars, went to Canada and Mexico, confirming the vital importance of NAFTA to U.S. farmers. Chart source: 2017 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®), page 30. Click image to view full size chart.

Decades of public agricultural research into animal health, herd management practices and feed grain production has translated into high pork productivity in the U.S.

Today it only takes 5 breeding hogs to produce the same amount of pork from 8 hogs in 1959. [2]

During that same time period, the amount of land required to produce 1,000 pounds of pork decreased by 78 percent. [3]

How is this possible? Feed for pigs is formulated to maximize nutrition, optimize growth and reduce levels of nitrogen in pork manure, so each pig produces more meat and less methane. Less land is needed to grow feed, thanks to higher yielding varieties of alfalfa, corn and soybeans.

These increases in productivity have reduced the carbon footprint of pork production to record lows. In fact, pork production in the U.S. today accounts for just 0.33 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. [4]

Healthy Hogs Are The Key

When pigs are healthy and well cared for, animal comfort and productivity improve.

Pork farmers are investing in “smart barns” that provide consistent temperatures and readily available feed and water. Use of precision data allows farmers to reduce energy use, save labor and protect pigs from disease.


“Smart barns” are temperature controlled with fans, misters and heaters. Electronic monitoring can detect disease or lameness so problems can be addressed before impacting the entire herd. Ear tags allow workers to check sows for health and expected farrowing date (when pregnant sows give birth.)

Pork production companies are helping drive improvements in housing and animal care systems. Smithfield Foods, Inc. recently announced that it has fulfilled its industry-leading commitment of providing group housing systems for pregnant sows on all company-owned farms in the United States.

To see how group housing systems work, take a virtual tour of a Smithfield Foods Sow Farm.

In addition, Smithfield recommends that its contract sow growers transition to group housing by 2022. The company is providing guidance and expertise to help contract growers reach this target. Improving the animal husbandry skills of the farmers and transitioning to science-based housing will support the productivity and comfort of the animals.

For more about the Smithfield Animal Care Management System and compliance verification program, see the 2017 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®), pages 29-30 and visit their sustainability website.


[2, 3] Boyd, G. and R. Cady, “Camco Report: A 50-Year Comparison of the Carbon Footprint and Resource Use of the US Swine Herd: 1959-2009,” May 22, 2012.
[4] U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2011, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Chapter 6.



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