Achieving Results Using AI: Could You Do Better?

By John Goss, PIC UK - This is the first of three articles by John Goss dedicated to the improvement of AI technique and results.
calendar icon 10 October 2005
clock icon 5 minute read
Pig Improvement Company UK

An estimated 60-70% of UK sows are now served by AI accessing the latest most efficient genetics but, compared with the success of our competitors in Denmark and the Netherlands, for some UK units it has been a retrograde step in terms of breeding herd efficiency.

I have recently visited three of PIC`s most successful indoor customers, each with 600 sows. They regularly achieve over 90% conception rate, with born alive of 12.5 and producing 25-27 pigs / sow /year. These results are certainly as good as the best Dutch and Danish results. What do these units do differently?

I concluded that they all gave superb attention to detail at all stages, adapting their systems to respond to the sow's biology and not the other way round!

Key Areas

Standing Oestrus
There were three KEY areas of importance for all the units. First is the identification of the start of standing oestrus, fundamental in determining the timing of the first insemination. Well-documented research shows that sows ovulate during the last third of standing oestrus. Knowing the likely duration of the complete standing heat within each herd will determine how long after first standing to inseminate sows.

The units all removed boar stimulation on day 3 after weaning and brought sows only two at a time to the boar at the start and end of each day from day 4 onwards. This ensures sows exhibit standing oestrus WHEN THE STOCKPERSON IS PRESENT to observe it. Standing oestrus will, on average, last longer for sows that come on heat earlier. Start of oestrus also changes according to season; earlier in good breeding times - February to May and later September to January. Knowing your unit, through twice- daily checking from day 4, will ensure you adapt the strategy parity by parity, season by season - working with the sow's biology!

Timing of Insemination
Having accurately determined the start of standing oestrus, the timing of the first insemination is the second KEY area for attention. Too early, or too late, will waste semen and reduce conception rate and piglets born alive. All three PIC customer herds delayed first service for the first sows showing oestrus by 12-24 hours. Importantly, they were observing oestrus twice daily so were 100% confident of the starting point within 12 hours. Regular checking of the start and finish of oestrus ensures that the strategy can change seasonally.

Body Condition

Sow body condition on weaning and the nutrition during lactation is the third KEY area which can have major impact on the AI reproductive result. A condition score of 2.5 - 3.5 at weaning is essential for sows' biology to respond quickly and strongly to the weaning process. With the correct condition achieved following high feed levels in farrowing, weaning a large litter and accurate feeding during gestation, she will rebreed whatever the time of year.

System Analysis

Identifying why individual units do not achieve their production potential requires an in-depth analysis of the whole herd. Analyse the system, perhaps at the next veterinary visit, and highlight all areas of potential weakness. Herd health sometimes plays a part in affecting AI results and reducing output, but should not be immediately blamed for sub optimum results. A systematic approach to a diagnosis should be carried out covering the following areas:-

  • Nutrition in lactation and sow condition on weaning.
  • Analysing herd records looking at the parity profiles and performance by parity to identify underperforming sows
  • Ensure correct semen storage and handling on farm.
  • Correct identification of the onset of oestrus and timing of the first insemination.
  • Overall insemination technique.
  • Handling of sows post insemination until confirmed in pig.

PIC has produced a 20-page practical AI guide outlining the 'Critical Factors for Success'. Visiting a large Dutch AI stud recently, I noted that the Dutch producers were implementing procedures described in the PIC booklet. Again the key to this success is that same old cliché - rigorous attention to detail; meticulous analysis of their system; and adapting to achieve a better result.

Source: John Goss, PIC UK - November 2004

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