Who doesn’t want to get the most out of the breeding herd? Perhaps you feel you’re doing the best that you can; or that you’re doing well enough.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Steve Sonka, DVM, offers six recommendations for getting the most out of your sow herd. They include:

1. People, people, people. Sonka says everyone is a manager, no matter how small his or her job might appear. Giving a person a title makes them feel important, that he or she is part of the big picture. The spillover effect often is to be more productive.

He also says there shouldn’t be a job that the owner wouldn’t be willing to do.

2. Gilt acclimatization and development. Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome has changed the way you have to handle replacement gilts. Sonka points out that some producers are isolating gilts for as long as four to five months. According to his data, most of the producers with the shortest wean-to-first-service intervals have sound gilt acclimatization programs.

“One producer told me if he only had one good employee, that employee would be handling gilts,” says Sonka. “That’s how important acclimati- zation is.”

3. Get animals bred. To meet your targets you need to look at seasonal infertility, management experience, lactation-feed consumption and gilt-pool size. Also critical are semen source, heat detection, nutrition and body conditioning score. Sonka adds that lighting is important, pointing out that if you can’t read a newspaper easily in the building it is too dark.

4. Finding sows/gilts that are open. Reducing stressors will help eliminate open animals. Accurate and thorough heat detection and pregnancy checking should catch most unbred animals. Using ultrasound will catch a lot of additional open animals, says Sonka.

5. Farrowing management. Most people focus on saving the extra pig, but the No. 1 priority for a farrowing manager should be lactating sow feed consumption, says Sonka. You should manage all sows as individuals and know each sow’s capabilities.

All piglet cross-fostering should be done within the first 24 hours to 48 hours after birth to minimize porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome exposure risk.

6. Genetics. You need to understand your herd’s genetic capabilities. Sonka says, you should use genetic differences within your herd to capitalize on its strengths, while also recognizing your herd’s weaknesses.