Track AI Technician Performance for Clues to Improve Farrowing Rate

We selected 22 farms from Swine Management Services (SMS) database that recorded the technician responsible for inseminating each breeding female, the weekday and time of day the insemination occurred (military time, hour 01:00 to 24:00).

We understand that some farms record time of mating simply by AM or PM, and that some sow record programs are limited in the amount of detail they will accept. However, if we are to drill down to identify the problems that plague some breeding herds, this type of detailed, individual information is required.

At SMS, we have developed the In-Depth Analysis Report and the Breeding Technician Report, which takes detailed data and turns it into charts and graphs that track farrowing rate by AI technician, by hour of the day inseminated, by day of the week inseminated, by parity, by wean-to-first-service interval, by number of matings, by boar semen lot, etc.

In this article, we will take a closer look at farrowing rate by AI technician, by hour of day and day of the week inseminated. Table 1 and Chart 1 present data on 15 technicians that in the last 52 weeks performed at least 2,000 matings, with a few approaching 10,000 matings. The average for the 52-week period was 4,925 matings/technician, which is an average of 94 matings/week or 13.5 matings/day.

We grabbed matings that were made between 6:00 a.m. (hour 6) and 3:00 p.m. (hour 15), thereby removing data that was probably entered wrong or the hour of mating was not recorded.

A 2,500-sow farm will average approximately 16,400 matings annually, about 315 matings/week or 45 matings/day.

A review of Table 1 shows the average farrowing rate for the 15 AI technicians was 82.8%, with a range of 74.5 to 89.2% for the 52 weeks. Focusing on matings that occurred between hours 6 and 15, we see farrowing rates between 80-85%, averaging 82.8%. Broken down further, the percentage of matings that occurred between hours 6-8 was 29%, hours 9-12 was 58.4%, and hours 13-15 was 12.5%.

Chart 1, shows the farrowing rates of each technician by hour of day bred. The black line represents the hourly average farrowing rate (range: 80-85%) for all technicians. As you can see, there is a lot of variation in farrowing rate by technician and hour of day bred.

The top technician (E), with an average farrowing rate of 89.2% for 52 weeks, begins inseminating at hour 6 (71% farrowing rate) and quickly improves to 87% or higher, topping out at 92% at 3 p.m. (hour 15). If I was the manager/owner of this operation, I would have this person come to work later, or tell him/her not to start breeding until 8:00 or 9:00 a.m.

Technician F, with the lowest average farrowing rate of 74.5%, struggles in the mornings, peaking at hour 10, and then struggles again as the noon hour approaches. He bounces back at hours 12 and 13, and then finishes the day with 82%.

What effect does a break or lunch have on farrowing rate? Look at the results of inseminations done at hour 11– technician B slips to 67%, technician F to 71%, technician J to 75%, and technician O also to 67%. Did this slump occur before or after a break? Does it reflect technician fatigue from breeding 20-30 females without a break? Perhaps the technicians were in a hurry to get the breeding done so they could join the group for lunch.

Table 2 and Chart 2 show Farrowing Rate by AI Technician, by Day of Week. This dataset includes 26 technicians who had 2,000 or more matings/year.

In Table 2, the overall farrowing rate averaged 86.1%, in a tight range between 84.3% and 87.2%. Broken down to the percentage of inseminations by day of the week:
Sunday, 18.1%;
Monday, 26.5%;
Tuesday, 14.3%;
Wednesday, 13.6%;
Thursday, 7%;
Friday, 10.4%; and,
Saturday, 10.1%.

We do not know how often or what days of the week sows were weaned, so it is difficult to know which day of the week had more returns and more late-weaned sows bred, both common causes of lower farrowing rates.

The top technician (A) held a 90.7% average farrowing rate, while the poorest showing was technician Z, with a 77.7% average farrowing rate. If you track technician A throughout the week, you can see he/she does a good job every day, averaging from 86.1% to 92.1%.

Near the bottom of the class, technician Y does a pretty good job on weekends (80.1%, Sunday; 85.2%, Saturday), but struggles to get out of the high 60s on Tuesday through Thursday.

Several of the technicians appear to struggle at mid-week. For example, technicians B, C and M have very good farrowing rates of 90.9%, 92.4% and 88.2%, respectively, on Tuesday, but drop to 80.7%, 80.3% and 74.2 %, respectively, on Wednesday, then recover on Thursday with averages of 91.2%, 89.9% and 85%, respectively.

Is this a reflection of the quality of sows bred on Wednesday (returns to estrus or late weaned sows) or some social activity that the breeding crew enjoys on Tuesday night?

We always review farrowing rates of breeding females bred on Saturday or Sunday, checking for consistently lower rates or wide variations from week to week. If we see weekend variation, we suggest looking at who is handling the breeding chores so they can receive additional training or, perhaps, switching them to other days of the week when their performance is better.

We also recommend that sick employees stay off the farm, especially if they have the flu, because, inevitably, you will see a drop in farrowing rate if they are allowed to work.

If you want to improve the farrowing rate, you will need this type of detailed information on every technician. It is also important to study farrowing rate by parity, postweaning days to estrus, and semen batches. The first step is collecting the information. The second step is making sure your record program can enter this important information. And, third, being able to generate reports that you can use. As we’ve noted in the past, for every 4% increase in farrowing rate, you should be able to wean 1.35 or more pigs/sow/year.

Key Performance Indicators
Tables 3 and 4 (below) provide 52-week and 13-week rolling averages for key performance indicators (KPI) of breeding herd performance. These tables reflect the most current quarterly data available and are presented with each column. The KPI’s can be used as general guidelines to measure the productivity of your herd compared to the top 10% and top 25% of farms, the average performance for all farms, and the bottom 25% of farms in the SMS database.

If you have questions or comments about these columns, or if you have a specific performance measurement that you would like to see benchmarked in our database, please address them to: or

Click to view graphs.

Mark Rix and Ron Ketchem
Swine Management Services LLC