By Tom Rankin, The Maschhoffs Farm Manager
Gilts bring an unspoken promise to the sow farm. These animals have been genetically selected to outperform the sows they’re replacing.
However, as pig producers, we often get hung up on that genetic promise when we should be focusing on driving pigs per sow per lifetime, which is a function of our ability to keep higher-parity sows. Paradoxically, the linchpin to increasing our parity structure hinges on our gilt introduction process.
Rather than focusing on gilt introduction in the name of genetic improvement, we should prioritize gilt introduction with the goal of increasing parity longevity and overall pigs per sow per lifetime. Seasoned farm managers will often refer to Parity 3 to Parity 6 animals as their “money sows.” The term comes from the fact that these are generally the most productive animals on a sow farm. However, I would contend with proper gilt introduction and sow care, we should set our sights on expanding that range to Parity 3 to Parity 8.
Geneticists may bristle at the notion that a Parity 8 animal is preferable to a gilt. However, those Parity 6-plus animals have a distinct economic advantage — they are fully depreciated. Not to mention, the health stability those sows pass along in the form of their colostrum provides a huge advantage in finishing performance.
Focusing on gilts
To get to a point where we can increase our average parity structure, our primary focus should be on our incoming gilts.
First and foremost, the acclimation process must be executed consistently and, ideally, in the form of an on-site isolation barn. Once the animal is acclimated, breeding becomes the focus. Heat checking gilts is one of the most difficult aspects of breeding these animals. The best person in your breeding barn should be heat checking — not breeding. Knowing which gilts are in heat is more important than the actual nuts and bolts of breeding.
When heat checking, don’t lose sight of the importance of proper boar exposure. Your teaser boar should be a virile animal that is active and social with the population. Older animals may be easier to lead around the barn, but pheromone production and activity are much more important factors when ensuring females are in heat. Also, don’t shortchange the exposure process by rushing it. Of course, the primary animal care components of feed, water and air are also vital during this time.
Once that animal goes from Parity 0 to Parity 1, your work isn’t done. Parity 1 sows are notorious for being difficult to cycle again after farrowing. For this reason, we top dress our Parity 1 animals in the farrowing barn to ensure they get extra nutrition to help them recover after farrowing. And, again, the same breeding principles apply for those Parity 1 sows.
In conclusion, yes, it is “all about the gilt.” However, I would contend the focus on gilts is more about increasing our parity structure so that our older sows perform consistently for a longer period of time. These animals will always have an economic advantage over incoming gilts. The trick is getting them to that point.