Making Gilt and Sow Management Easy

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Simon Grey, General Manager Europe, Genesus Inc.

Whenever a group of producers get together a big part of the discussion today is how difficult the modern sow is to manage and how high sow mortality has become. This is at a time when in parts of the world there is increased pressure on more extensive systems (perceived better welfare), pressure on reducing use of antibiotics and zinc, and a growing shortage of well-trained, or indeed any staff to work on farms.

This is such an issue in the EU that legislation is being proposed that would force genetic companies to select for reduced born alive (suggestion is between 12 and 14 piglets). If this legislation was to be introduced it would have significant impact on production and cost of production. The only possible way to prevent this type of legislation is to put our own house in order. We can’t defend sow mortality in the low teens and piglet mortality in the high teens in intensive systems.

We know already that mortality figures will get worse in more extensive systems we are being legislated to use in the EU. We know also that the situation with lack of people to work on pig farms will only get worse – not better.

Core to Genesus’s belief is an easy to manage, very robust gilt and sow, that is still very competitive in terms of number of piglets produced, cost of production and profit. Current estimates are a cost of well over $1,000 for a dead sow (cost to dispose, replace and loss of production) (https://www.swineweb.com/measuring-the-direct-and-indirect-costs-of-sow-mortality). Halving mortality from 12% to 6% would save over $60,000 per 1,000 sows. This is the equivalent of $120 per gilt purchased – more than the genetic premium on a gilt for most producers. Producers always want to negotiate the genetic margin on a gilt, maybe this should be related to % expected mortality. Some genetic companies would get no genetic premium on gilts today!

Our customers regularly report, on same farm sow mortality 50% lower with Genesus F1 vs competitors.

The robustness of the Genesus sow comes from not only the genetic/genomic selection program. A lot of the advantage comes from the Genesus philosophy that nucleus farms be managed very similarly to commercial farms. The commercial management techniques have been used for years on Genesus Primary Genetic Nucleus Farms in Canada.

Early maturing gilts. We know that the Genesus gilt can be bred at 135kg and starts to become less productive when bred over about 165kg (too fat). The sooner an F1 gets into production, we measure and select for an earlier age at first farrowing the more profitable she will be over her lifetime. Additionally, maximising genetic progress requires reducing generation interval, the younger the gilt at first farrowing the faster the genetic progress. Growing gilts ad-lib to point of first mating is the best way to minimise age at first farrowing so this is what we do. Nucleus gilts are now being bred as young as 190 days. For commercial production, a gilt that can simply be fed ad-lib is easier to manage than having to restrict intake individually.

Selectors have final choice. Of course, all pigs on nucleus farms are tested (phenotyped and most genotyped) and indexed. However, final selection is done by our selectors and is based upon physical attributes, especially leg and feet quality. It makes no sense selecting the highest index animals that will survive only 1 litter due to bad feet, legs or structure.

No supervision of farrowing. We need sows that will farrow unassisted and without the need for practices like split sucking, both of which we know will save piglets. We have taken a conscious decision in our Primary Genetic Nucleus farms to not supervise farrowing. This of course does mean we have extra losses (still born and early piglet mortality) which is a cost to our business. We do believe that this management philosophy for ease of farrowing is a big contributor to the robustness, ease of management and calmness of the Genesus sow.

No Fostering. Another management decision on Primary Genetic Nucleus farms is not to foster any piglets (unless in the case of sow sickness or death). If a sow or gilt farrows 24 piglets then they will be left on the sow. This way our management philosophy assists us in measuring the sow’s ability to rear piglets. Once again this is a cost to the Genesus business, but for commercial farms using the Genesus F1 sow, there is a significantly reduced need for fostering, a skilled and time-consuming job. It means also there is no requirement to have 10% to 20% empty farrowing crates for foster sows. This has never made any economic sense!

Lactating gilts and sows that can be fed ad-lib. Genesus has selected for feed intake in both sire and dam lines. This means today we can expect a Genesus F1 sow to voluntarily eat on average over 7.5kg of feed per day over a 21 day lactation. Feeding lactating sows by hand or with volume dispensers is very time consuming and a skill very few people have. High feed intake means high milk production. No requirement for expensive computerised milk systems that are now recommended by some genetic companies as being essential. It means also bigger weaning weights at same age as our competitors. With removal of antibiotics and zinc in piglet diets this has become a very important factor.

Low loss of backfat in lactation. High lactation feed intake means the Genesus sow loses on average just 2mm of backfat in lactation. Sows return quickly and easily to heat after weaning meaning less time with extra stimulation or even skipping heats on ultra-lean sows. Even condition means less time assessing body condition and adjusting feeders. Even condition makes feeding in group gestation pens much simpler.

From selecting a nucleus gilt to its F1 grand-daughter being bred is at the very least 2 years, meaning changes being made on nucleus farms today affect commercial herds in 2 to 5 year’s time, a very slow process! It will take many many years for the genetic companies with difficult to manage and fragile sows to have any significant effect on the results on commercial farms. I fear much to slow to prevent further legislation being introduced.

To prevent extra legislation and to reduce cost act now. Call your local Genesus representative to discuss the advantages of a robust, easy to manage sow.