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Defining Sow Productivity: Breeding Issues

by 5m Editor
5 November 2008, at 12:00am

This article is a transcript of a teleconference between five pig veterinary specialists organised by Alpharma. The topics covered include seasonal infertility, reducing sow mortality, gilt acclimation, segregation of parity 1 sows, better birth and weaning weights, increasing litter size, litters per sow per year, variable litter weight and management and sow productivity.

The pig specialists taking part in the conference were:
  • Dr Joseph F. Connor, Carthage Veterinary Service Ltd., Carthage, Illinois
  • Dr John Deen, University of Minnesota, St. Paul
  • Dr Don Levis, Extension Swine Specialist, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
  • Dr Camille Moore, swine consultant, Quebec, Canada and
  • Dr Roy A. Schultz, swine veterinary consultant, Avoca, Iowa (moderator)

BREEDING ISSUES

Seasonal Infertility

Dr Schultz:

Let's turn to breeding issues. How about seasonal infertility? Certainly if hot weather has anything to do with it, we should be seeing quite a problem.

Dr Levis:

Yes, we're starting to see heat stress effects because the temperatures in our area are getting up to 100° and 102°F. Prior to now, heat stress was not much of a problem based on my conversations with the staff from various farms. I think it will hit us harder now with the climbing temperatures.

Dr Schultz:

What can we do about seasonal infertility?

Dr Levis:

Some people believe there's a photoperiod effect. But when we look at all the data, I still think ambient temperature is the main problem and our main objective should be to control the temperature.
Although tunnel-ventilated buildings with cool cells now exist, we still have problems with heat stress. What I've done with some of these cases is to provide intermittent sprinkling of water on the sows. I think that helps by cooling down the sows more. Other than that, we need to simply be conscious of temperatures and start operating fans and cooling systems before heat gets to be a problem inside the building. When the temperatures reach about 76° to 78°F and the ambient temperature is expected to increase, we need to get coolers operating.

Dr Deen:

The big message I'm trying to get out is that seasonal infertility is not something to passively accept. When we look at it with something we call a pathway analysis, we see that seasonal infertility is almost always related to other factors. One example is single mating. A single-mated sow is much less likely to be successful if mated in the summer compared to winter. It raises the question of whether we should allow single matings.
It appears more and more that if things are going well, single matings might be acceptable, but not during the summer. Single matings in summer are more likely to fail, especially if other factors are causing a problem. We see the same thing with prolonged wean-to-estrus intervals and with returns. These problems seem to really compound each other during summer.

Dr Connor:

Dr Levis, what’s the influence of feeding rates in summertime during the first 30 days of pregnancy?

Dr Levis:

I am not aware of any scientific study that has evaluated the interaction of heat stress and feeding rate during the first 30 days of gestation. There probably is some effect because heat production within the body rises when feed is digested. The combination of heat stress with an increase in body temperature will most likely have detrimental effects on reproduction. The biggest effect is embryonic death loss in the gilts, not so much in the sows. But embryonic death loss can be a problem in sows that are in good body condition and fed too much feed.
I don't think the detrimental effect of feed intake on reproduction is quite as great as it used to be because today's animals are leaner. When we're talking about feed, it gets back to the lactation hours rather than during the day, although that can be difficult to do. It takes about 4 hours for the sow’s metabolic rate and body temperature to increase after consuming feed. If the largest portion of the lactation feed is provided during the early morning and early afternoon, this rise in body temperature occurs during the hottest part of the day.

Dr Connor:

Most of our new systems have automatic feed systems. Should we set those up over a 24-hour period to feed more during the evening than during the day? It's been our observation that we don't always get more feed in those sows. But you're saying what's important is the time of day that they consume feed?

Dr Levis:

Right.

Dr Schultz:

That's interesting. In warmer climates such as Mexico where I do a quite a bit of work, we have a lower born-alive rate even though the genetics and feed are the same. You think it's the effect of temperature?

Dr Levis:

Yes, it's probably a temperature effect and maybe the sows just don't acclimate to the warmer temperature in Mexico. Scientific studies have documented that ova quality is lower during periods of heat stress.

Dr Connor:

Dr Levis, would you comment on how you think we should change the mating pattern in the summer, based on your pathway analysis? Should it be changed to offset seasonal infertility?

Dr Levis:

I do not know of any scientific studies that have evaluated the effect of mating pattern to offset seasonal infertility. We do know that the time of ovulation during estrus is dependent on duration of estrus. However, there is a large amount of variation in time of ovulation within a specific duration of estrus period. I think there are two key questions: first, does the average duration of estrus change during the summer months; and second, does the average time of ovulation change during the summer months?
I do not think these two questions have been adequately investigated. Because of the substantial amount of variability in the weaning-to-estrus interval, duration of estrus, and time of ovulation after onset of estrus, I think the best mating pattern is to heat-check early in the morning and inseminate the sow when she exhibits a solid standing response. The lifespan of a sperm cell is 24 to 36 hours; thus, one insemination every 24 hours should be adequate.

Dr Deen:

We see seasonal infertility every year to some extent, including last year when we hardly had any warm days in the Midwest. Even temperatures in the 80° to 90°F range seem to create some problems on our farms, and I agree that it's a temperature thing.

Dr Connor:

Seasonal infertility is not as dramatic a problem as it was before for us. The farms are trying to do a lot of things correctly.

Dr Moore:

In our cooler climates, we have not seen much seasonal infertility for the last few years. This summer is not excessively hot or much warmer than normal, but we'll see.

Reducing Sow Mortality

Dr Schultz:

What have you seen regarding the rate of sow mortality? Has it improved or not over the last few years, what's the leading cause, and how significant is it to profit and loss?

Dr Deen:

It is improving if we do a straight line across farms, especially on farms that have identified sow mortality as a problem. The only time we do not see an improvement in sow mortality is when there is a more aggressive euthanasia program going on. We are seeing some farms doing a good job euthanizing pigs earlier rather than transporting them, due to the welfare issue. We have emphasized this quite a bit through the Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAPTM) of the National Pork Board. There is also more emphasis placed on the development of gilts, so we're seeing less pressure on young sows.
Last summer was cool, and that seems to have decreased sow mortality. When it's hot, feed intake decreases and sows get overheated. Besides hot temperatures, the other reason we see higher mortality during the summer is because marginal sows are retained when farms are having difficulty meeting their breeding target. During cooler summers we see less of that, and during warm summers we see some animals that should be culled that are instead retained in the herd. That's a real challenge.

Dr Schultz:

Do you still see sudden death in sows? In one of the systems I work in, 40% of the deaths were sudden deaths. Nearly half of these sudden deaths were documented by culture and fluorescent antibody (FA) testing to be caused by Clostridium novyi.
Adding BMD at 250 g/ton to the sow rations during the last 2 weeks of gestation and through lactation decreased the sow death rate by 16% while increasing pig weaning weights by 0.6lb. It was a win-win situation and economically rewarding.

Dr Deen:

Yes, there's a pattern of sudden death increasing during the summer. Generally, at least 50% of mortality occurs between 3 days before the expected farrowing date and the expected weaning date. That's a real high-risk period for the animal. A number of things are occurring there such as overheating during parturition and going off feed due to a combination of heat and infections. And yes, Dr Sheila Keay, then with Pig Improvement Corporation (PIC), and I have reported some of the same success in reducing mortality by treating sows through the lactation diet. We saw a decrease in mortality that was concentrated in lactation but extended into gestation.
As I mentioned before, we've seen an improvement in sow mortality in part due to an emphasis on the problem and on the development of gilts.

Dr Moore:

For us, one of the key factors was better gilt raising and paying attention to the quality of the animals that are entering the herd. It's something that has helped reduce sow mortality.


Gilt Acclimation

Dr Schultz:

That leads us right into gilt acclimation. What's the role of gilt acclimation in sow productivity?

Dr Moore:

There's no doubt that it has improved on the litter side – using the same genotype and being able to get one more pig born from the offspring of those gilts when you do the job right. We've been able to improve our average parity by roughly a half parity in the herd over the past 2 to 3 years. I believe that improved acclimation is related to the quality of the gilts coming in.

Dr Connor:

I agree. We've also seen an improvement in gilt acclimation that has enabled us to increase litter size and the farrowing rate in parity 1 sows, which is now starting to come through the mature parities.
We like to split up acclimatization and adaptation. Where we've seen a real change is during the adaptation phase. Producers are providing more square footage, are actually selecting gilts, and maintaining an intensive acclimation program. These factors have allowed the gilts to grow very well and even allowed a slowing of growth if necessary.

Dr Moore:

I fully agree with Dr Connor as far as the quality. The slower pace of expansion or nonexpansion in our industry in the past couple of years has reduced pressure on gilt demand. This has helped with gilt selection, in contrast to 5 years ago when expansion was very big. It is certainly another factor in addition to the way that they are raised.

Dr Deen:

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are conducting a couple of studies on feet and legs and are finding two things. One is that selection is important, and even marginal, small problems on leg set selection predict the likelihood of retaining that animal within the herd.
One investigation is looking more at feet and lameness and finding that poor feet going into the farrowing crate predict more mortality attributed to a wide range of causes and more infertility as well.
Just developing a more solid animal or selecting more solid animals, and perhaps the emphasis on genetic selection, is getting us over some of the humps we had before regarding the problem of animal retention.

Dr Levis:

Some of the farms I work with are doing an excellent job in getting the gilts ready for the breeding phase. These farms have people working in the gilt development barns and selecting gilts known to have cycled at least once. We know that if gilts cycle earlier, they are going to have better productivity over a lifetime, if we let them develop to a heavier weight. So these farms get the gilts identified and start working with them more carefully to get the right growth rate on them. Then they'll move the gilts to breeding facilities, but they don't breed the gilts on that first estrus. They put the gilts in stalls and get them adjusted to the stalls and a reduction in feed. Then they’re sure that all of these gilts are bred on the second or third estrus. They’re getting an increase in litter size and a little longevity on the sow.

Segregation of Parity 1 Sows

Dr Schultz:

Dr Moore, you have been instrumental in adapting the parity segregation system of production. In this system, the gilts are fed, acclimated, bred, farrowed, and rebred in facilities apart from parity 2 and higher sows. Their progeny are also raised in a different pig flow than parity 2 and higher sows. I see that happening in systems around the world and it has worked very well. Have you anything new to share with us on your system – and maybe describe it a little bit again?

Dr Moore:

Gilts are exposed during the early stage of finishing in buildings operated on an all-in/all-out basis. Afterwards, they are bred in a common location and farrow together at the same location. One change is that lately we have gone to all-in/all-out farrowing in the parity 1s. We have two or three farrowing sites that are completely emptied between batches of farrowing. This has helped tremendously with the quality of weaner pigs.
Then afterwards, those gilts are rebred at the parity 1 location, then are moved to the parity 2+ pyramid. Besides all-in/all-out farrowing, we have not made any other modifications for the past year or 18 months, and this system is still working for us. It was a little tough last year with PRRSV on the parity 1 progeny, but the all-in/all-out approach helped a lot.

Dr Schultz:

Where I've seen the system adopted, it has worked well.
Dr Connor, don’t you work with some of these systems?

Dr Connor:

Yes, we've been working with a few systems that have been set up over the last 3 years and I concur with Dr Moore. The systems are working quite well, particularly in the downstream flow of pigs. The way those have been set up is for breeding of parity 1s on the original farm. They are held there through 35 to 50 days of pregnancy. They've been set up as PRRSV-negative and so our parity 1 flow has been PRRSV-negative. The challenge we've had has been to optimize immunity of the parity 1s from common agents such as swine influenza virus and Clostridium perfringens type A.

Dr Schultz:

Dr Levis, have you seen this set-up in your travels?

Dr Levis:

Yes, and I agree with what's been said. One problem I see that still goes on in some places when we're working with PRRSV and parity 1 sows is that parity 1 sows have a problem cycling after weaning. Many times, the non-cycling problem is related to feed intake during the first 7 to 10 days of lactation. The people feeding the lactating lows are afraid the sows will go off feed if too much feed is provided during the first week post-farrowing. There is a tendency to cull parity 1 sows if they don't cycle, but I don't think that's right. We need to take a little closer look at the feed intake during those first 7 to 10 days of lactation.

Dr Deen:

Most of the influence of parity 1 sows is actually through their progeny, and most of it is negative. One of the interesting things about parity segregation, as far as performance in the nursery, is that once you pull out the parity 1 progeny it appears that the other progeny do better. Dr Moore has talked about this in the past. This is the case, for instance, with Mycoplasma.
Even in non-segregated flows, we're seeing real effects of parity 1 progeny when there is lots of turnover in the herds and more parity 1 sows farrowing, which actually decreases the quality of the flow after that. This is one of the big challenges we're seeing.

Better Birth and Weaning Weights

Dr Schultz:

One observation I've made is that the program of feeding 250g/ton of BMD in the sow rations starting 2 weeks before farrowing and through lactation has resulted in heavier pigs at weaning. This has been consistent whether Clostridium perfringens type C or type A was involved or not. A few years ago, Alpharma conducted 7 experimental trials with this BMD program and got 0.6 lb heavier pigs at weaning.
Dr Moore, haven't you had experience with this? You reported about a 260g (0.57lb) heavier pig at weaning by using BMD during lactation. Is that correct?

Dr Moore:

Yes, and we're still using this although we haven't run trials lately. We believe there is weaning weight improvement with this approach. We currently have a trial going on using BMD during the last 28 days gestation with parity 1 to improve birth weight. Preliminary results show 30g heavier pigs at birth with the BMD group, but it's a long trial that will take another 6 months before we can access real good data. In a previous trial, we got a 54g heavier pig at birth with the BMD program. We're still using BMD during lactation and see a benefit in weaning weight.

Dr Schultz:

I would agree, and there have been several studies in other countries using BMD during gestation to improve birth and weaning weights. Certainly as we go to larger litters, it would help if we could decrease variation. I assume that’s what you are attempting to do, Dr. Moore?

Dr Moore:

That's exactly what we're attempting to do.

Dr Schultz:

Dr Deen, haven't you looked at the value of various production parameters? As I recall, 0.5lb more at weaning was worth about $2 per pig at market. Is that correct?

Dr Deen:

We've qualified it more. Now we're not looking at the average weaning weight but at variations in weaning weight. One-half pound of extra weight in an 8-lb pig is worth a lot more than 0.5 lb extra in a 12-lb pig.
What George Foxcroft of the University of Alberta and others are describing in these larger litters and in older sows is that pigs born light and carried through to market have a lower likelihood of high growth rates. Just getting birth weight up seems to carry through a long way. For instance, an extra pound of weight on a 7- or 8-lb pig has an effect of about $10 to $12. They are less likely to die and more likely to be a growth-animal both in the nursery and grow-finish. It's not so much moving the mean as taking up the tail. That half pound can make a real difference in those animals.

Increasing Litter Size


Dr Schultz:

We want to cover general strategies to improve litter size. There's a battle, at least in the media, about getting above 30 to 32 quality pigs/sow/year. There is some old work using Aureomycin at breeding time, which improved litter size; there was a five-university or extension trial summary that was reconfirmed in Australia.
Dr Levis, you're the reproductive physiologist among the group. How would you go about improving litter size?

Dr Levis:

If there is a disease or some kind of infection, maybe medication in the feed during breeding and gestation would help. But over the long term, we need to look at management procedures to increase litter size. And of course the animal has to have the genetic ability to produce a larger litter, and that's not easily defined. Some companies that sell breeding animals claim to have the potential to produce 30 weaned pigs/sow/year.
In addition to genetic potential, management can have a big effect on the success of producing a large litter size. Estrus females have to be detected and bred at the right time. Another key aspect is the boar semen. Artificial insemination has helped us because high quality semen is being produced from boar studs that utilize excellent semen evaluation procedures.
Currently, the pork industry is wanting to use long-term boar semen extenders to help reduce shipping costs and provide more flexibility as to when the semen can be used on the farm. However, I wonder if we're not trying to cut our costs at the expense of litter size.
I have some concern about the use of long-term boar semen extenders that provide excellent motility (70% to 80%) at days 4, 5, 6, and 7 after collection. Dr Billy Flowers at North Carolina State University found that the percentage of sperm binding to the ova and percentage in activity was significantly decreased for sperm cells stored for 4 to 7 days compared with sperm cells stored for 1 to 3 days. Interestingly, the motility of the sperm cells stored for 4 to 7 days was above 70%.
Overall, there are a lot of biological and management aspects that go into improving litter sizes. It is essential that:

  1. females be used that have the potential to produce large litters
  2. estrus females are bred at the correct time with high-quality semen to fertilize the eggs
  3. sows are correctly managed during the first 30 days of gestation to provide an environment for a high rate of implantation of embryos and
  4. the environment provided during the later part of gestation minimizes or prevents stillborns and mummified piglets.

Dr Schultz:

At the American Association of Swine Veterinarians' conference last year, you gave an excellent overview of 12 factors for getting 30 pigs weaned per mated female per year. Please tell us what those were.

Dr Levis:

Those factors were:
  • people
  • estrus detection procedure
  • lactation feed intake
  • lactation length
  • seasonal influence
  • procedures to artificially inseminate estrus females
  • use of high-quality semen
  • use of fertile females
  • correct use of a gilt development unit to select cyclic animals
  • culling of repeat breeders
  • movement of gestating females
  • correct evaluation and implementation of new technologies.

Dr Schultz:

Dr Connor, aren't you targeting for 30 pigs/sow/year?

Dr Connor:

Almost. I've been surprised that we've seen a huge leap in productivity over the last 2 years due to a combination of factors that we've talked about. Dr Hasse from Denmark was here last year at our conference. He services more than 30 herds that are over 30 pigs/sow/year. It was interesting to compare differences from what we're currently doing, and we've implemented some of those procedures to try and move it forward. The number of herds that I see on a weekly basis that are above 25 pigs/sow/year is tremendously greater than what it would have been 2 years ago. Most of the genetic companies either already had European lines in them, imported European lines, or brought in the Nebraska line from here in the US. We clearly have producers that are targeting 30 pigs/sow/year.

Dr Deen:

I struggle with born-alive for two reasons. It's relatively stable within the herd compared to the farrowing rate, and manipulating the farrowing rate seems to be the bigger opportunity. There is a correlation between the farrowing rate and litter size from week to week on the farm. So when breeding is going badly, it affects litter size as well. I still go back to estrus detection on the farm and make sure these sows are bred twice. Then they settle well.
The other challenge is that as we're looking at changes in housing systems, litter size is one of the challenges in housing that we really haven't identified yet. Most of the trials haven't had the experimental power to show the differences.

Dr Levis:

Housing of gestating sows in pens is going to be one of our challenges in the future. If we have to take sows out of gestation crates, then how do we manage the sows to maximize litter size? Right now our solution is to keep them in gestation crates until about 35 to 40 days of gestation, then move them into a pen with several sows. The most critical time after fertilization of the ova that influences litter size is the first 30 days of gestation. I do not believe we have all the answers on how to manage group-housed sows to maximize litter size.

Dr Moore:

I'll be the dark devil here but should we start asking ourselves if we are not paying too much attention to litter size? Right now we think that we don't want more than 13 total born per litter. That is related to birth weight and colostrum availability and quantity.
Searching for too big a litter size might have a negative impact on the quality of those weaner pigs, and maybe that's linked to circovirus and other health problems that we are seeing. What impact is larger litter size having on overall herd productivity? That's the question we need to ask.

Dr Schultz:

I agree with you. It seems like the industry chases after a magic number, which right now is pigs weaned per mated female per year. It used to be lean genetics. Then we forget about the lightweight pig or the ones that aren't of much value in the system.

Litters per Sow per Year


Dr Schultz:

How do we get more litters per sow per year? The average weaning age has been as low as 16 days and now I think it's 18.2 days. We've seen it go up to up to 22 days and, in Europe, to 25 days.
What's your take on this regarding litters per sow per year, Dr Deen?

Dr Deen:

In most of these herds, a longer lactation length has helped the litters per sow per year and helped litter size. If you have an average of 16 days, there are sows weaned at 14 days or even less, and you've got some pretty young pigs in there. Then the uterus is just not ready to take embryos in for the next litter. So the litter size did go down and there was no way to get around that. That's just the natural system. If you move the lactation length out a little further, the uterus has more time to heal and take the next litter in and litter size is improved. It has only a small effect on the farrowing rate, maybe 2% to 3%.

Dr Connor:

We're adding farrowing crates based on data. We think it's important to improve sow productivity as well as capture what Dr Roger Main's studies have indicated occur in the grow-finish phase. The interesting effect will be if we then are challenged by lactation feed intakes, particularly with some of the lean lines that we're all working with. Other strategies that increase feed intake in lactation will become more valuable.

Variable Weight

Dr Schultz:

Let's single out variable pig weights. Dr Deen, this has been your ball game for a long time. What are the ramifications of variable weight, and how can a producer decrease variability?

Dr Deen:

We're finding that the best predictor of nursery performance is the quality of pigs coming in. There are a number of different qualities, such as the weight of the pigs, but also the parity of the sow producing those pigs, and even gender. If we get light-weight pigs into the nursery, we think two things are going on: They have a much higher likelihood of dying or continuing to be a light weight pig going out of the nursery, and it also appears that they increase the risk for disease outbreaks in the rest of the nursery pigs. Those two things together really make a strong case for looking at the quality of pigs as a sow productivity measure.
As Dr Moore alluded to, variability is decreased by decreasing litter size. Larger litters are at increased risk for variable pig weight. I don't even talk about variation any more. I'm talking more about the proportion of animals below a cut-off. Say it's 1 kg or 2lb or something like that, and looking at the animals that are at more risk. Some people use 1.7 or 1.5lb, depending on exactly when they're weighing the pigs after birth. But a few things are showing up.
One, as we all know, is that older sows can be a real problem, and some farms are trying to keep sows that are too old. Although they may be producing a litter that's big enough, they are not producing consistent pigs at weaning.
The second factor is the parity 1 sows. They're throwing more light-weight pigs as well. Minimizing those by retaining sows in the herd up to the 5th or 6th parity reduces that variation. So a parity profile is a first step.
We've seen the effects of Aureomycin in a study I'm looking at where it actually decreases the proportion of light-weight pigs at birth, and that carries through to weaning as well.
The last factor is between birth weight and weaning weight. If there's any restriction on the availability of milk, either through litter size, low feed intake, or heat, then we see that relationship exacerbated. Light-weight pigs at birth become more and more likely to be light-weight pigs at weaning. We see that variation widening out during that period.

Dr Moore:

I'm in total agreement with Dr. Deen. We need to manage low birthweight pigs. We need to ask ourselves if they should be kept. The other thing that we've tried to do over the past year is reduce cross-fostering as much as we can. We are trying to move the big pigs away to give the small pigs a chance. We are being detrimental to the growth potential of big pigs. Maybe we should focus on those and give them as much chance as we can and forget about the small ones. Maybe our focus was not exactly right in the past.

Dr Schultz:

You mentioned cross-fostering. What's your current practice and recommendation?

Dr Moore:

We try to avoid cross-fostering after 36 hours of life. We've done that for close to a year now and we've seen a big difference in the quality and weight of the weaners.

Dr Connor:

We cross-foster but in a very restricted way, and all cross-fostering is completed by 36 hours. We like to have 80% of it completed by the first 24 hours.

Dr Levis:

Some of the farms I work with get very frustrated trying to manage small pigs, so they look at the small-pig problem a little differently. They don't really mess with the little ones, and have much happier employees in the farrowing facility and nursery facility. That's the other way to reduce variation by euthanizing the small pigs. I've seen a few farms lately where half of their preweaning mortality comes from euthanizing pigs shortly after birth. They are euthanizing 4% to 5% of pigs born. It sounds very aggressive, but they're quite comfortable with that level.

Management and Sow Productivity

Dr Schultz:

The discussion would not be complete without touching upon general management factors that affect sow productivity. If you had to sum it up, Dr Levis, what are the two or three most cost-effective management changes producers could make to improve sow productivity?

Dr Levis:

Start with the gilt. Make sure there's a good gilt development program and get the gilts developed correctly. In addition, closely evaluate the feet and legs of the gilts.
We need to spend more time doing heat checks on gilts at a younger age to make sure we have cycling gilts coming into the gilt pool. Make sure the gilts are bred on a second or third estrus. The only way we're going to be successful, in my opinion, is to get good people working on these sow units who are really big believers in the program.

Dr Deen:

I agree. It gets down to a people problem. I'd even add that for seasonal infertility, we're starting to see the highest turnover rates during the summer, especially early summer. We're running into problems as far as turnover and retention of employees in some of our units. We need that long-term relationship with the animals and a better understanding of processes over a long period of time to make those interventions, so I'm focusing more on labour at this point than infertility.

Dr Moore:

My take-away message is more related to our current focus on circovirus. My main recommendation currently is to avoid cross-fostering as much as possible and maximize colostrum intake. Those two basic things should help a lot with nursery and grow-finish performance.

Dr Connor:

We all have access to the same information and technology. The real challenge is what others have said: how do we get that understood and implemented and get a heightened percentage of compliance within a farm?
Because of the labour turnover and labour quality, compliance is really what separates one herd from another herd. The other area we continue to focus on very heavily is lactation feed intake.

Dr Deen:

One thing that I struggle with is a balance between maximizing productivity on the sow farm and having stable productivity. I'd much rather have an average of a 1000 pigs per week that range between 980 and 1020 than 1050 pigs per week that range between 700 and 1500. We haven't, in many cases, put real restrictions on the way sow herds are managed to emphasize stabilization rather than maximization. We've got to get beyond when the sow or gilt is in heat and automatically breeding, then taking whatever we get.

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

Dr Schultz:

Do you have any additional thoughts?

Dr Connor:

We've got a lot of technology and differences between farms. Our goal should be to continue to put that technology together to meet the criteria that we’ve set out. This may be pigs per mated female, pounds per mated female, or high-quality pounds per mated female per year, and maybe should be tied back to return on investment or return on equity.

Dr Deen:

Our sow units have to be managed by something other than averages. What I've learned in looking at records is to count the failures out there. I think there are quality failures in three areas.
One is that the pigs coming out just aren't of good quality, and we've got to create measures of weight and the dam's parity. Secondly, we need to identify when not enough pigs are being produced each week to fill the nursery. We have to look at the times when we fail to produce enough pigs rather than simply look at average production. A third one is that we're not keeping those costs under control. Because the major costs of a sow unit are fixed costs, whether it be labor or capital or otherwise, it really comes down to having productive animals in the herd and filling the spaces within the herd.

Dr Schultz:

I contend that many of the current bonus systems that are based on numbers only, not including the quality of the pigs, cost us economically. It has pushed pig problems out of the farrowing rooms into the nursery, and then out into the finishers where they are more costly to deal with. We have to think of the most benefit for the total operation. Well-motivated people with good training are an essential part of a successful operation.

Dr Levis:

It seems to me that we're talking about a Total Quality Management (TQM) program in all these phases of sow productivity. Therefore, we need good working people. These people need to have a clear understanding of how to manage the gilt development phase because we have to get weaned sows re-bred. It is TQM of the entire operation that requires a lot of in-depth thinking.

Dr Moore:

We need to look at the full picture in production. We still put too much emphasis on the sow side and don't look enough at the total number of marketable pigs. We need to dissect the production system and look at all parts of it. We need to be focused on the pigs that will be sellable at the right market at the end, and on the steps needed to maximize this.

Dr Schultz:

Thank you to all panelists for your participation and insights.



Further Reading

- You can view the first part of this teleconference on ThePigSite by clicking here.


Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.


November 2008