Weaning 30 pigs per mated female per year is a lofty goal, but can it be reality?

“Basic principles need to be applied to achieve 30 weaned pigs per mated female per year,” says Don Levis, University of Nebraska swine reproduction specialist. “It is essential that a high level of excellence be utilized when planning, implementing and managing genetics, nutrition, health, housing, reproduction and the environment of a herd.”

Technology is essential in making 30 pigs per mated female per year a consistent goal. “However, one does need to proceed with caution when adopting state-of-the-art, cutting-edge technology,” he says. 

First you need to be certain that the technologies have been scientifically tested with an excellent experimental design, notes Levis. “There is little room for error in attempting to produce a high number of weaned pigs per mated female,” he adds. But the task involves much more than applying a new, promising technology, sitting back and waiting for results.

He offers these factors as critical starting points before you attempt to achieve a 30-weaned-pig goal:

  • Use high-quality semen to inseminate gilts and sows. Ensure semen viability and dosage, as well as insemination techniques and training.
  • Select sows and gilts for your breeding herd that ovulate a high number of ova.
  • A high number of ova need to be fertilized, and a high number of embryos must be implanted into the uterus. A high embryo survival rate is critical.
  • Litters must produce a high number of piglets born alive.
  • Sows and gilts should have an adequate number of functional nipples. That may mean more than your typical female now has.
  • All nursing piglets must be able to obtain an adequate milk supply. Lactation length must be such that it gets them off to a healthy start.
  • Piglet pre-weaning survival must be high.
  • Weaning-to-estrus interval must be low, and farrowing rates must be consistently high.

As for technology, he offers these comments on a few prospects:

  • Specific to semen insemination and breeding programs, he points to long-term semen extenders, intrauterine body catheters, deep-intrauterine-horn catheters, auto inseminations and hands-free A.I. devices as technologies that are getting consideration. But, he cautions that none of these technologies will achieve 30 pigs per mated female per year alone. Some need more research and most require highly trained and skilled workers.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. This may or may not influence sow reproductive performance, says Levis. Additional research is needed to clarify the optimum amount to add to sow and boar diets; the preferred sources; and when to feed it during the reproductive cycle  to maximize benefits, he notes.
  • Automated feeding. Such systems can be very successful when properly managed, says Levis. They provide fresh feed frequently during a 24-hour period. They reduce labor, freeing workers to focus on the sow and other tasks, which is especially important during the first 24 hours
    after farrowing.
  • Sexed boar semen is still several years away in commercial application, says Levis. While it can provide some production benefits, it won’t likely help in reaching a 30-weaned-piglet goal.

As with most pork production goals, the prospects of success fall back on people. “All the technology in the world won’t matter unless workers are knowledgeable, motivated and dedicated to making the new technology work,” says Levis.

For example, some workers may need to learn more about the animals themselves, their requirements or how to read reactions. Those things fall within your training duties.

Perhaps some workers need a refresher course in basic skills. Others might be facing some job dissatisfaction or need motivation. That, too, is your responsibility.

More than technology your workforce is sure to influence the chances of your operation reaching the goal of 30 weaned pigs per year.