John Sonderman and Todd Stumpf with DNA Genetics also contributed to this column.
We have all heard the saying: “Technology is great … when it works.” While that is certainly true about a lot of things, post-cervical artificial insemination is a technology that consistently works, according to gathered data. Although PCAI has been successful in numerous systems, a recent study conducted by Purdue University uncovered only 42% of the farms they surveyed are using PCAI. So why aren’t more producers using this precise insemination process? This column will compare the side-by-side data of PCAI farms versus conventional artificial insemination farms. Hopefully this data will lead more producers to the same conclusion: PCAI offers many important advantages.
DNA Genetics enlisted the services of Swine Management Services LLC to evaluate the data of more than 100,000 sows and compare the differences between PCAI and conventional AI. Using PCAI, we compared 21 farms, totaling 78,000 sows, with an average of 3,714 sows per farm. Using conventional AI, we compared 29 farms, totaling 36,300 sows, with an average of 1,256 sows per farm. All farms were at 28-plus pigs weaned per mated female per year. The data was from a 52-week period ending Oct. 1, 2016.
It is important to note, not all PCAI techniques and equipment are the same. The farms on PCAI in this column were all trained by DNA Genetics and use the same equipment. DNA Genetics currently has over 500,000 sows utilizing their specific PCAI technique through on-farm trainings over the past eight years.
Table 1 farm comparison shows the results of the evaluation. A difference of 0.31 pigs weaned per mated female with the PCAI farms having a slight edge. Farrowing rate was essentially the same for both systems with a difference of less than 1%.
Conventional AI had the advantage for total born at 15.92 compared to PCAI at 15.58 a difference of 0.34 pigs per litter. Table 1 shows the range for PCAI of 14.85-17.15 and conventional AI range of 14.57-17.41 pigs. This difference can be partly accounted for by the difference in parities between the two systems. Conventional AI farms averaged 2.58 parities while the PCAI farms averaged 2.29 parities.
However, piglet survival rates were better in the PCAI farms at 80.3%, compared to 79.2% in the conventional farms; partly accounting for the difference in pigs weaned per mated female per year. Remember that piglet survival is controlled through day-to-day farrowing house management.
The PCAI farms also had lower wean-to-first-service interval with an average of 5.09 days and a range of 4.40-7.06 days. The first service interval for conventional AI was an average of 6.17 and range of 4.63-9.08 days. Although we do not know the exact reason, the difference is a 1.08 day advantage for PCAI.
Table 2 top 10% farm comparison shows the top 10% of the farms (three farms in each group). Again the PCAI farms had a slight edge on pigs weaned per mated female of 0.28 pigs. Farrowing rate again was essentially the same at 90.7% for PCAI and 91.3% for conventional AI. The conventional AI farms had a 1.3 pig advantage on total born while they actually had a lower average parity of 2.10 compared to the PCAI farms at 2.43. However, there was a 6.8% difference in piglet survival with the advantage going to the PCAI farms at 85.3% versus conventional AI at 78.5%. The difference here is likely because of extended farrowing hours in those farms. Remember that the average farm size for PCAI farms is at 3,714 females versus the conventional AI average at 1,256 females.
So, if there is not a difference in farrowing rate what are the advantages to using PCAI? There are several.
• Faster than traditional AI by up to five minutes per service.
• Fewer breeding technicians required in large units allowing them to focus on Day 1 pig care instead. Larger farms will see more advantage than smaller farms.
• Fewer sperm cells required and lower volume per dose, which may reduce cost of goods for the dose of semen.
• Less time handling boars because you are only using them to heat check which can improve safety.
• If you own your own boars, the higher indexing boars can cover more sows which should result in higher-performing finishing pigs.
• Improved job satisfaction has been seen on farms because there is less breeder fatigue.
If you are not using PCAI here are some things to consider before implementing.
• Make sure there is buy-in and excitement from the entire team about the change. This will ensure your chance of success making the switch. We know of farms that did not buy in properly or were not properly trained that had significant production issues.
• Ask for help from your genetic supplier for training your team. While it is a fairly simple process, it is critical that the breeding team gets trained appropriately.
• Know who your best breeding technicians are. They will be able to do more breeding.
• PCAI will not fix low total born or farrowing rate problems.
Some questions have come up about breeding gilts using PCAI. As we reviewed the data from farms that tried breeding gilts using PCAI, we saw a lot of variation on farrowing rate by farm and technician. If you are going to start PCAI we suggest starting with weaned sows first, before trying gilts. Even with training, we have seen mixed success with breeding gilts.
The real value of PCAI depends on your system. In a farrow-to-wean unit, it likely comes in the form of labor savings and lower cost of semen doses. However, in a farrow-to-finish system, it can be much greater, by having more consistent market pigs because of using fewer sires. Before you start using PCAI, do your homework, get total buy-in of the crew and start slow. If you follow that model, we believe you will be more successful, maintain consistent production and gain more labor hours to use somewhere else in the farm.
Much like conventional AI, PCAI has not taken off overnight. However, PCAI has become more common among more producers and is gaining ground every day. The data shown here and the results many farms have experienced using PCAI, cannot be ignored. PCAI is a proven technology, farms should consider it and how it will work into their production system.
Table 3 provides the 52-week rolling averages for 11 production numbers represented in the SMS Production Index. The numbers are separated by 90-100%, 70-90%, 50-70%, 30-50% and zero-30% groups. We also included the 13-week and 26-week and 12-quarter averages. These numbers represent what we feel are the key production numbers to look at to evaluate the farm’s performance.
At SMS, our mission statement is to provide “Information solutions for the swine industry.” We feel with the creation of different SMS Benchmarking databases for all production areas we now have more detailed information to share with the swine industry. If your farm would like to be part of the SMS Benchmarking databases, or if you have suggestions on production areas to write columns about, contact Mark Rix, Ron Ketchem or Valerie Duttlinger.
We enjoy being a part of the NHF Daily team. Previous Production Preview columns can be found at NationalHogFarmer.com.