Sow Removal: An Important Component of Profitability

CANADA - A breeding herd’s economic efficiency is known to have a direct relationship with sow removal or culling rates. High culling rates can be a concern to modern commercial herds because a smaller percentage of animals are producing in the most profitable parities, writes Pius B. Mwansa, Ph.D., Genesus Geneticist.
calendar icon 15 July 2015
clock icon 4 minute read

Considering production costs of raising replacements and prices of segregated early weaning (SEW) hogs, Stalder et al (2003) study found that a replacement gilt must remain in the breeding herd for three parities before reaching profitability.

Good herd management requires a proper understanding of culling options for safeguarding the best herd parity profile for a given production system.

This entails maintenance of a steady flow of replacements taking over the space of less productive sows while optimizing the overall performance of the herd. However, sow removal is not always at the control of the herd staff.

Sows are removed from breeding herds for many reasons. From an economic perspective, sow removals fall into one of two categories: voluntary and involuntary. Simply put, when the staff are forced to dispose of the sow, the removal is involuntary and in most cases the reason for removal is due to a biological failure in the sow.

When the staff chooses to remove the sow it is voluntary removal and in those cases the removal is mainly for economic reasons. The table below, though not exhaustive, shows the culling reasons grouped into the above-mentioned categories.

Voluntary Reasons (economic)

  • Farrowing difficulties
  • Poor litter size
  • Poor milking and rearing ability
  • Poor maternal behavior
  • Poor index ranking relative to the herd average

Involuntary Reasons (biologic)

  • Anoestrus (lack of sexual activity)
  • Conception problems
  • Abortion
  • Lameness
  • Disease

Noticeably, the importance of reducing involuntary culling becomes self-evident. It is to provide much more room for voluntary culling, “handing-over” a higher portion of disposals under the control of the herd staff and focusing on removal for economic benefit.

Therefore, the increased portion of production-based voluntary disposal allows for culling options that may improve overall herd-performance and profitability through optimized parity profile management given replacement cost considerations.

Stalder et al (2003) reported recommendations for the ideal parity profile/distribution of the sow breeding herd to include 15% first parity sows, 14% second parity sows and 13% third parity sows.

This means a significant portion of the sow herd should be producing below the National Swine Improvement Federation (NSIF) suggested higher production parities (parities 4 and 5).

Simulations suggesting that pork production systems with the lowest commercial replacement rates are most profitable have been reported (Rambo et al., 2014).

To underscore the point, consider the fact that improvement in longevity of an additional parity in the sow herd was calculated and reported to be equivalent to improving lean meat content by 0.5% (Sehested, 1996). Proper management of a production unit’s parity profile through optimized voluntary culling policies will improve profit margins.

Currently, the Genesus genetic program reduces involuntary disposals in their customers’ units by judicious use of phenotypic selection for desirable functional traits (conformation and structural soundness) in the nucleus units.

Additionally, a research and development agenda directed towards use of genomics to identify markers associated with conformation and structural soundness traits (such as feet and legs as well as locomotion) will be considered in the near future.

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