Sow Herd Management

CANADA - The trend in market hog prices has been significantly upward over the past three months, according to Ontario Pork's Pork News & Views for June 2010.
calendar icon 17 June 2010
clock icon 5 minute read

People who study these trends suggest it is due to increased global economic activity, and reduced production levels of fresh pork and pork in cold storage. It also appears that beef supplies are lower than in the past years. The significance of this situation is that pork producers can look forward to returns above loss or breakeven pricing for a period of time. How long or how high prices will move will depend on a number of factors:

  • the strength and length of the global economic recovery the return of pork production to levels which will depress prices, and
  • the supplies and availability of other protein sources including poultry, fish, and beef.

Weaner pig and farrow to finish operators are looking very hard at how to improve their production to take advantage of the situation. First of all, existing commitments and debts have to be reduced in a structured and organized fashion. Once these arrangements are in place, serious consideration should be given to the quality of the breeding herd. If boars are in use on the farm, their ages and sources should be checked. If they were retained from the production herd for breeding, they should be replaced with good quality genetic material, from the source of your original genetic stock; if from another genetic source very strict protocols for bringing in new animals must be followed. These include vet to vet discussions, sentinel animals, blood testing and all the practices we used to do before the economic downturn came.

The next place to carry out correction is in your sow herd. Here the decisions become a little harder to make. Typically there may be sows in fourth, fifth or sixth parity or longer who are of known genetic material. Some of these may in fact be seventh or eighth parity and getting large for the farrowing equipment. Cull any sows that deliver a small litter or are too big for farrowing or gestation stalls, and replace with a gilt of sound quality breeding stock. There are two considerations here. Firstly, older sows have the highest immunity levels of any animals in the herd in terms of health. Secondly, when we culled after the sixth litter we lost the information on what parity litter size dropped. Some producers have reported acceptable litter sizes out to the eighth litter. It must also be realized that larger animals will consume more feed, and this has to be weighed off against the fact that they may well have been good quality genetics producing good quality weaners.

The third part of the programme after replacing boars and older sows, is to aggressively begin replacement of sows that were retained from the feeder barn as breeding gilts. In many situations there are sows in the fourth and fifth parities that were home selected. The process would be to replace all new gilt replacements with good quality genetic stock. Culling should be based on decreased litter size, followed by sows that are difficult to settle or remain open for extended periods of time. Following this process it would be valuable to replace as many as possible of the finishing barn gilts. The reasons for this action are many. Bringing in larger numbers of new gilts than normal could result in a drop in production numbers as they go through first parity. This drop may not be noticed or may turn out to be an increase in numbers weaned, depending on the production that was achieved from the farm retained gilts. Secondly, new breeding stock will be more advanced genetically and will likely produce more and better quality pigs over their productive years. Thirdly, variation in finished animals as tracked on your grading slips should decrease and allow you to produce a more uniform consistent carcass. Fourthly, many of the non traceable items such as days to market, feed conversion, health status, should show the benefit of new and fresh genetics.

A final consideration to this process is the caution that swine are living breathing organisms subject to a range of health problems. It is absolutely important to follow strict biosecurity protocols when mixing them or bringing in new animals, to prevent the spread or outbreak of diseases.

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