Reproductive Records

by 5m Editor
11 August 2011, at 12:00am

Advice on interpreting sow records from Ed Barrie, Sow Weaner Pig Specialist with OMAFRA in the latest Pork News and Views from Ontario's Ministry of Agriculture.

Of all the records kept in swine production, those involving the reproductive cycle are the most prolific and often the most difficult to interpret. Some records are best examined over a long-term basis. Typical of this would be if you were looking for seasonal infertility issues – then your realistically shortest time frame would be one year.

Judgment would also have to be tempered with factors such as seasonal temperatures – years such as this one have shown little if any seasonal drop in production to date, and unless it gets much warmer in the next two months, we will probably see little change in farrowing numbers over the year.

The genetics package in use must also be considered as having some influence on seasonal fertility. There have been significant changes in genetics in herds in Ontario in the last six months, especially with the numbers of firsttime farrowings, and it must be realized that the genetic factor can be taken for a seasonal factor on a short-term basis.

Consideration must also be given to the people doing the breeding and farrowing tasks on the farm. If there are changes in people, there will be changes in technique and skill level that will show up as variations in production numbers. Consideration should then be given to the longevity and training available to the people doing the work. Often the best results from records for seasonal infertilities can be gleaned from looking at flows of animal production numbers over a period of several years, with stable employees and consistant genetic packages.

In looking into other areas, average conception rate should be given some consideration. Surprisingly, management issues are often highlighted when it comes to conception rates. People who have been doing a particular job for an extended period of time can develop weakened work habits and the consequences are seen in reduced conception rates. Similarly, new employees lacking skill confidence and training can, in their over-application of enthusiasm, lead to upset sows who ultimately produce reduced farrowing rates.

One of the first areas to slip is in the handling of the semen samples. There is the temptation to use semen of poor or low quality because it is on hand, rather than sourcing more semen. There are temptations to ignore temperature and storage protocol, because it always worked before. There are instances of reducing boar exposure times or seriously shortening them, because we "usually" get good results anyway. Insemination technique can be adjusted to suit the person doing the work instead of the biological requirements of the animal.

In the areas of past insemination, we see the mixing of sows before ova are fully implanted as a major factor affecting farrowing rate.

It is not easy nor simple to track down problems with lower conception rates. This article has not dealt with the areas of disease or timing, but rather with the human aspect of performing a routine task in a routine way and repeating it many, many times. Records, when looked at over an extended period of time can highlight some of the issues. The same records can also mask other important causal agents such as genetic changes or human work habits.

August 2011