Behavior can tell you a lot. The traits a sow exhibits can help you determine if she’s likely to be a productive one, says Keith Irvin, Ohio State University animal scientist.

Irvin has spent 15 years studying swine behavior. He offers eight factors that can help decide how productive a sow might be. These actions relate directly to her ability to produce healthy and viable piglets, Irvin says. They are:

1. Sow temperament with pigs. The more amiable and attentive she is, the more pigs she’s likely to wean.

2. Sow temperament with workers. Again, an easygoing temperament makes a good sow.

3. Condition of sow at farrowing. Not too fat, not too lean.

4. Ease of farrowing.

5. Milking ability. She has to be able to feed the pigs she farrows.

6. Strength of her piglets.

7. Overall mothering score. To derive this score, researchers evaluate piglets at 21 days of age and consider the number, size, uniformity and overall appearance of those pigs. Sows with strong mothering scores usually experience no milking problems and have an easier time farrowing. That equates to more pigs born alive, stronger pigs and better survival rates for piglets 21 days old.

8. Crate adaptability score. This refers to the sow’s ability to get up and down or in and out of the crate. Naturally, you don’t want a sow that fights a crate. She can harm herself and her pigs.

Sows that adapt well to crates often have heavier piglets at 21 days, fewer milking problems and better mothering scores than sows that don’t adapt well.

While the last two measures are a bit subjective, Irvin notes they correlate well with objective numbers such as piglet weights at birth, at 21 days and at weaning. The correlation seems effective across all breeds of sows.