Pig Farm Olympics

They looked like the Jamaican bobsled team, other than being Mexican. That’s the odd thought that popped into my head as I watched Oscar and Gustavo race down the alleyway, one pulling, the other pushing with a 700lb. dead sow on the cart. It’s a nasty chore that anyone working with livestock is familiar with and those outside of agriculture cannot even imagine. Although I was there for a farm audit and to preg-check 4 weeks’ worth of bred sows, I didn’t sit idly by while these two young guys struggled to remove this enormous sow from her pen. I’ve had plenty of experience with the job and helped get her as far as the alley before these two decided the best way to move one of this size was to run as fast as possible.


I’ve often thought of all the “strange” experiences those of us in animal agriculture are familiar and comfortable with which the general public would find odd, or downright disgusting. Forget about the smell, the dirt, and getting crap all over you. Even the slickest of city-slickers knows about those things. I’m talking about the things they would never dream of, such as pushing a dead sow cart like a bobsled, trying not to gag and puke from the smell. I’ve witnessed the puzzled expressions of countless waitresses overhearing my dinner party discussing things like semen, insemination techniques, testicle size, analyzing ejaculates, etc. I once had a grade school teacher very concerned about what kind of movies we are watching in front of our kids because they were talking about semen at school! Yes, my kids learned about the birds and the bees by helping their dad collect boars and breed sows.


We are the true “one-percenters”. We feed the other 99% and we have experiences they couldn’t imagine. We castrate thousands of piglets, occasionally flinging a testicle or two at one another as a joke. We put our hands inside of sows past the elbow and blow in the mouths of the piglets we pull out of her in order to help save their lives. We pick up placenta, sometimes picking it strand by strand out of the wire flooring before it dries on like concrete. Once you’ve smelled day-old placenta, you don’t forget the smell. We push the rectum back into a prolapsed sow and stitch it up to prevent it from reoccurring. We are very comfortable with needles and syringes. We give injections every day. Most of us have accidentally vaccinated ourselves at one point or another. We know the pain of an accidental needle prick, a slip with the scalpel, getting gashed by a boar tusk and getting a foot stomped by a large sow. We know the feeling of needle teeth digging into the fingers as we try desperately to hang onto anything to pull out a piglet from a farrowing sow. We know the pain and fatigue in the arms and hands after struggling all night trying to help a problem gilt farrow. We pick up mummies and stillborns and we occasionally drag out the hide and bones of a finishing pig that wasn’t found as soon as he should have been. We recognize the smell of a dead pig as soon as we walk into a barn where one is present.


We breed sows nearly every day. Sometimes hundreds per week. We know the sound and behavior of a sow in heat. We sit on their backs, rub their flanks and act like a boar to try to ensure the insemination goes well. Sometimes we collect, analyze and process boar semen. Some among us spend more than 40 hours per week with a boar penis in their hands! We’ve all gotten boar semen on us at one time or another.


In modern commercial production, these seemingly odd tasks are done every day in volume. Crews of workers are collecting semen, breeding sows, pulling piglets, and processing litters all day long. The speed and skill with which these crews work is really impressive. I’ve often thought there could be Pig-farm Olympic Games where pig farmers could compete and showcase their skills. Imagine the events. Litter processing, castration, testicle toss, dead pig removal race……….the possibilities are endless! Ridiculous I know, but as I watched those two young pig farmers race down the alley like a two-man bobsled team with a dead sow cart I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought.


Today’s questions:


Andy from US,


Can you tell me how you recommend using Matrix? I've read a few different variations on length of use and dosage. Also, how do you suggest using it with PG 600 at the end? When using PG 600 post weaning when do you recommend giving the dosage?


Hi Andy. There are a lot of opinions about how to best use Matrix and pg600. The protocol we follow is based primarily on research done in Spain with a reproductive expert there. We’ve found that it works very well for our farm and many of our clients. We use the labeled dosage of 6.8ml per day. You can round to 7 to make it easier. While it needs to be fed for at least 14 days, we normally feed for 16 days in order to tighten the window for the whole group. We plan to have fresh semen arrive on day 4 after the last feeding as we will normally have one or two of the group in heat on that day. Most will be in heat by day 6, and a couple will trail off a bit longer. We use pg600 48 hours after the last feeding of Matrix. Many give the shot the next day and that’s ok. We’ve found a better response waiting an additional day. You’ll have much more success if you are certain that the gilts are cycling before you begin feeding the Matrix. Regarding pg600 for weaned sows, it can be done at weaning or the following day.


Sherri from Kentucky,


I’m a 4H livestock leader, we have purchased small farm in Kentucky and would like to raise swine!! Looking for some suggestions, on purchasing two bred sows first, rather than a boar, we would like to learn to AI!! Any help would be appreciated.


Hi Sherri. Welcome to pig farming!! Please read above to see all the strange experiences that await you! I think your plan to begin with some bred females is a sound one. Where to get them depends upon what your goal is in raising pigs. Are you interested in raising pigs for the show ring? Are you planning to sell the pigs to a local meat locker? Are you hoping to market pork to your neighbors and local community? I can recommend a number of excellent breeders who can sell you bred gilts and treat you fairly. Many of my readers may have some ideas for you as well and I would encourage them to reply in the comments section with their suggestions. One bit of advice is to discuss herd health with your prospective supplier. Make sure they can document that they are free of PRRS at the very least. Also that they have a great working relationship with their veterinarian and stay current with all their necessary vaccinations. If you want to focus on the meat side of the business, start with Durocs or Berkshires as you will likely have meat quality bred into them from the start. Another route to take would be to play with some of the more rare breeds such as Mangalista or Red Wattles. Those are going to be harder to find and maintain the genetic base, but preserving rare breeds comes with its own unique rewards.


Regarding AI, it’s not very complicated to do. Once you learn heat detection (which can be difficult with no boar around) it’s just a matter of putting in the catheter, attaching the bottle and stimulating the sow. You don’t need a lot of training like breeding cattle and other species. I would recommend getting a cheap heat-check boar or keeping one from your first litter to make heat detection and breeding much simpler. I know it costs a little money and pen space to feed a boar, but it’s a good investment to make your AI program successful. I would advise watching a few YouTube videos to get the idea. I can help you find a reliable semen source in your area as well depending upon your goals (showpig, commercial, etc.). Let me know if there’s anything we can do to help.  

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