Taking the Hassle Out of Breeding

A southern Minnesota breeding/gestation facility was designed with two goals in mind: better heat detection and labor efficiency.

A southern Minnesota breeding/gestation facility was designed with two goals in mind: better heat detection and labor efficiency.

The Swine Vet Center (SVC), St. Peter, MN, came up with the blueprints for the 2,400-sow building, and more and more of their clients are adopting the plans. Woodville Pork, a contract farrowing operation for Wakefield Pork of Gaylord, MN, was one of the first.

When Woodville Pork owners Paul and Peter Zimmerman and their cousin Cliff Jes were drafting plans for a second farrow-to-wean operation, their main objective was to simplify the breeding process. They liked the idea of pen mating and recognized the importance of good nose-to-nose contact between sows and boars to help find sows in strong, standing heat, avoiding breeding too early or too late.

Woodville Pork II's barn, near Waseca, MN, features two distinct breeding areas or hubs. In the center of each hub are breeding pens with adjacent boar crates. Open gilts and newly weaned sows are housed in gestation stalls near the breeding areas. Rows of gestation stalls make up the rest of the 81 × 585-ft. barn.

Sows move in a circular pattern when they're ready to breed. Starting on Day 4 after weaning, they exit crates from the front and walk down a short alley to a breeding pen. They return by exiting the pen on the opposite side, moving down another short alley and into the crate.

Some facilities require animals to back out of crates, which can be a hassle for the people moving them, notes Darwin Reicks, SVC veterinarian. Stall breeding works with experienced employees, but Reicks prefers pen breeding next to a boar to simplify heat detection.

Crates work well for boars, too, he adds, because they control their movement. “In loose pens, the boar can walk to the opposite side of the pen, away from the sow. This makes it more difficult to detect heat. When boars are in crates, the person doing the insemination only has to worry about keeping the sow in the proper position for good nose-to-nose contact during insemination. And sows have their choice as to which boar they prefer.”

Newly weaned sows are kept one row away from the breeding pens, facing away from the crated boars. They keep 16 vasectomized boars in the building.

Boar exposure starts the day after weaning, when vasectomized boars are allowed to stroll the alleyways in front of sows during the employee's mid-morning break. Woodville II's average breeding target is 140-150 sows/week. The sow groups wrap around the facility like a snake. The term “gestation snake” in the diagram refers to their filing system that tracks the 2,400 females in the building.

Females are bred at least three times on an a.m./a.m./p.m. schedule. Conception rate averages 89%, with 90.4% of animals bred by seven days. Weaning-to-first service interval is 6.4 days for the young herd. They've only been farrowing since April of 2003, so average parity is 1.7. Sow death loss is low, 3.9%, and preweaning pig mortality is 5.9%. Manager Chris Selthun notes one of their goals is to keep that figure below 6.5%.

Other production averages include 11.6 total pigs born, 10.9 born alive. Pigs/sow/year is just under 25 and non-productive days average less than 40.

Labor-Saving Design

Breeding pen gates operate with a quick latch to make them easier to open and close, saving time and labor. The quick latches are mounted on center poles between two-way opening gates, eliminating drop rods that too often end up in the pit.

Selthun, who was breeding manager at Woodville I before his promotion, says the new facility requires less staff. “We used pen breeding at Woodville I, too, but each sow had to be backed out of the crate, which took time. Pens had gate rods with 10-ft. gates, so they were heavy and we'd lose the rods. The ease of running sows out the front, and returning them in the circular design, plus the centralized location of the breeding pens, lets us get by with one less person.”

If he could do it over, Reicks says one change he would make is to eliminate the stainless steel troughs at the front of the stalls. Time is lost waiting for sows to step over the troughs when exiting the crates, plus they have to step up onto the concrete alleyway. He'd change the crate flooring to 40% solid, 60% slats with a level alley, use nipple waterers and feed on the floor.

Another plus to the building is the chance to spot lame sows as they walk to the breeding pens. “Weaning is a high-stress period for sows,” notes Reicks. “If they're borderline lame, employees will see it and treat it. That may explain the low sow death loss.”

Reicks says the design has become quite popular. “These guys feel they get better results doing everything in a pen. If a crew has a lot of experience, they may do a second service in the stall, but we're promoting first-service mating in the pen.”