Gone are the days of natural-service breeding with boars and sows outside in the mud. Technology has brought forth great advances and raised the stakes when making boar management decisions.

The rise of artificial insemination has placed a greater emphasis on boar selection because it has reduced the number of boars in the breeding herd. It has increased the importance of genetic merit in boars and increased the importance of boar fertility.

Aside from the obvious concern of having too narrow a range of genetics, inbreeding is another potential AI-related problem. So far, inbreeding hasn’t been a problem in swine, but has affected the breeding herd’s reproductive performance in the dairy industry, says Todd See, North Carolina State University swine specialist.

Whether you get boar semen through a commercial stud, have your own boar stud or get semen through a cooperative arrangement, you need to look at the same things to determine the quality of the supply source.

When determining the quality of boar semen, you should look at criteria like the volume of the ejaculate, the number of sperm cells, the number of services per ejaculate, sperm motility and sperm morphology. A high number of abnormalities in any of these areas will lead to substandard fertility.

“Motility is one of the better indicators of fertility,” says See. “The semen needs to have better than 60 percent motility to have reasonable fertility.”

Since semen quality is demanded by customers, not requested, every stud has high quality control standards.
At the stud, improving semen quality traits like morphology and motility can save the stud between 1 cent and 2 cents per pig produced.

If you’re running your own boar stud, the area that you need to pay attention to is the volume of ejaculate per boar and the sperm-cell count. Increasing the amount of ejaculate or sperm count can increase your profits 8 cents per pig marketed or 27 cents per service.

Boar stress can have a major negative impact on your bottomline, as it can reduce sperm-cell count by 9.4 percent and volume by 13 percent. See says most current boar management programs do a good job eliminating stress.

However, eliminating boars and their progeny from the breeding herd that show a history of substandard semen volume of appropriate quality is something See believes needs to improve throughout the industry.

To delve deeper into how boar semen supply quality affects your bottomline See has developed a spreadsheet program called the Economic Value of Semen Traits. This program is designed to look at comparative costs, looking at the size of the stud and methods of service.

For more information on the program contact See at (919) 515-8797 or check the North Carolina State’s Web site at www.ncsu.edu.

See also uses a spreadsheet from Don Levis, University of Nebraska, to show some of the costs of moving from natural breeding to AI You can download this program at www.unl.edu.

If you are looking at commercial boar studs trying to decide which one is right for your business, you should look for one with a positive reputation. Start by talking with fellow producers. See adds that most boar studs operating today maintain good fertility rates and semen quality or they would’ve been out of business long ago.

In addition, look for a stud with good lab facilities, and learn about its quality control protocols. Of course, delivery availability and timeliness are additional requirements for any commercial stud to fit your needs. See also recommends placing an order with a commercial boar stud before you make a long-term commitment as a kind of test run.

If you are looking to select boars to fill your own boar stud, focus on that boar’s desire to be collected as an essential trait, says See. Otherwise, just concentrate on the traits you want to emphasize in your herd, like carcass traits or feed efficiency. See would look at maternal traits as a secondary priority. He also would look at litter size and weight and limiting non-productive sow days.

Whether making decisions about a commercial boar stud or developing your own facility, boar fertility and performance come into play. Current lab practices make these decisions a precise science and allow you to better manage your breeding program.