It was the coldest night of the year thus far, with the wind howling and an occasional flurry of snowflakes hitting the restaurant window. Tucked away in a corner of the Butcher Block steakhouse, I was enjoying a delicious 16oz. ribeye while contemplating the topics of discussion for the upcoming conference in the morning. Traveling comes with the job description in my line of work, but winter brings with it an extra bit of travel. In addition to the normal customer visits and meetings, many state pork producer associations hold their annual conferences and trade shows in the winter. For some “road warriors”, there is a new trade show to attend in a different state every week beginning in early-January and ending in mid-February. For me, one of the trade-offs for being away from my family and sleeping in hotel beds is that I get to try different local restaurants with each trip. I typically rely on recommendations from industry friends in the area or even from Darin’s Pig Pen readers! Special thanks to those who help make my evening meals enjoyable during my travels.
Finishing my steak, I took a quick drive to downtown Cedar Rapids to check out the site of the conference the next morning. Then back to my hotel to get through some emails, call home to say goodnight to the wife and kids, iron some clothes (my wife would never let me attend a conference with a wrinkled shirt) and off to bed.
The PIC Road Show is different from the usual winter trade shows. Held in various cities throughout the Midwest, the meetings are designed to bring relevant information to producers (PIC customers) and other industry people in attendance. PIC (Pig Improvement Company) is the world’s largest supplier of genetics for the commercial swine industry. Founded in 1962, they currently operate in 30 countries and are the market leader in most of them. They have an excellent team of technical service people to help their customers maximize efficiency and profitability in their farms as well.
The morning session was devoted to sow-farm productivity. Three farms in the same production system were highlighted to begin the discussion. Consider the data. These farms have farrowing rates of 96.0%, 96.3%, and 94.1%. Average total pigs born per litter of 15.6, 15.9 and 15.7. Average number of pigs weaned per litter of 13.8, 13.8, and 13.9. They showed the summary from their Sow Benchmarking software with 21 production systems participating and a total of 875,399 sows averaging 14.6 total pigs born per litter and an 86% farrowing rate. The top 10% averaged 15.1 per litter, 31.4 pigs/sow/year with a 91.5% farrowing rate while the top 50% averaged 14.7, 28.8, and 88.1%. The focus was on what steps you can take to move your farm from the 50% (average) or lower producer to the higher end and the profitability difference it would make. There was lots of discussion about individual sow care, good husbandry, walking the pens several times per day, individual treatments and interventions, proper sow body condition and good early piglet care. Lots of data was presented about proper temperature and climate control, ventilation rates, water pressure and flow rates and proper feed consumption.
What interested me the most however, was the amount of attention paid to gilt feet and leg selection. For many years, this has been a primary criticism of “genetic company hogs”; that they are structurally unsound, have bad feet and legs and do not live very long in modern production facilities. Certainly there has been some validity to this criticism. Having worked in the commercial industry for many years, I’ve dealt with the high sow mortality rates, the “downer” sows that need to be euthanized and the high cull rates from sows that can barely walk under their own power after only one or two litters. Indeed, the target of producing 30 pigs/sow/year was not achieved with a primary focus on leg scores and structure. It was achieved by focusing on selection for improved litter size above all other things. After all, what good does it do to have a sow with perfect legs stay in your herd for 12 parities if you can’t get more than 8 pigs per litter from her? Today’s maternal females need to be able to produce litters of 15+ born and 13+ weaned, breed back 5 days after weaning and last in the farm for at least 5 parities. These piglets need to grow rapidly, convert feed efficiently with low mortality and fall-out rates and produce acceptable carcasses with good meat-quality. It’s a lot to ask. At the same time, having achieved many of these commercially-important trait combinations, it’s really good to see genetic companies focus on other important profitability factors such as lameness, sow culling rates, sow mortality rates and ultimately replacement rates. It appears that their primary solution for most of these issues is to focus on feet and leg selection.
It may seem like basic common sense to producers involved in showpig production or producing heritage breeds on a smaller farm, but in the big commercial industry, many people need to be trained in selection for proper feet and legs. The National Pork Board actually put a lot of research into the subject several years ago and came out with charts and a pocket guide to help people select for proper feet and leg structure. The major genetic companies produced their own material to help customers with gilt selection and PIC shared their charts for front and rear leg placement at the meeting. I inquired as to how this selection is incorporated at the nucleus level. After all, it’s one thing for gilt multipliers and producers to focus on legs when selecting replacement gilts, but they can only choose from what is provided to them. Someone at the nucleus level has to ensure that feet and leg structure is an integral part of the breeding program. At PIC at least, legs are scored on every potential nucleus animal and incorporated into the genetic program alongside other commercially important traits in their selection index. I suspect that other genetic suppliers do the same. A very good friend of mine used to be a lead geneticist for one of those other companies. He implemented feet and leg structure as a vital component at the nucleus level and made enormous strides in a few generations. We still use his genetics to this day in several farms which my company manages or consults for and his diligent work is still paying rewards.
There is a lot of science that goes into modern commercial genetic lines. When I was a youngster, I was fascinated by genetic selection. Combining selection for phenotype, as we do in the show ring, with performance data that we gathered in test stations provided a common-sense approach to improving hogs. Later incorporating real-time ultrasound data and doing the testing on-farm rather than in test stations, to implementing BLUP (best linear unbiased prediction) to incorporate all the gathered data from each individual and all relatives to generate EPDs, we made great strides in improving economically important traits like litter size while reducing backfat and increasing loin size in combination with increased growth rate and improved feed efficiency. However those improvements pale in comparison to what is being done today. Genomic testing and selection have allowed geneticists to make improvements at a pace previously unseen. With continued research and development into genetic modification, the gains are likely to continue. PIC already has a genetic modification for pigs which are resistant to PRRS. Other disease-resistant strains are sure to follow. With all the science involved in modern production, it can begin to seem as though these modern units are more like an industrial laboratory than a pig farm. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the core of each unit is still a farmer or group of farmers whose primary focus is taking care of the pigs on their farm to the best of their ability. Good stockmanship and common-sense decisions about underlines and feet and leg structure are an integral part of their work. In that sense, selection for phenotype is still a critical piece of modern pig production in commercial farms. You may not see them selecting for “tall-fronted”, “giraffe-necked”, “big-ribbed” or “wide-based” hogs anytime soon however. We’ll leave those traits for the show ring.
Sue from Fillmore, CA
Pigs for last year’s fair were purchased too young, but should have made fair weight but several pigs in our group did not. Other than too young, and genetics, do you think that the new mixes in feeds have anything to do with lighter weight pigs, and slower gains? If so, do u have any suggestions in adding anything to feed to help? We fed Moormans feed and have fed this for years and always been happy with it. I am thinking of trying another feed but which one? We experience a lot of hot weather here and I know effects of hot weather on pigs feed consumption. Am just thinking maybe another feed might be “cooler” and better for pigs in the heat. Sorry, I know this is a loaded question but we only show once a year and it is difficult to keep up with the latest! Thank you!
Thank you for the question. There are obviously a LOT of feed companies with specialized show feeds for pigs. Nearly all of them will provide the appropriate nutrition to get your pig to the proper weight and have him looking his best on show day if you follow their program. I would choose one that you are comfortable with and that provides you with technical support to help you get your pigs tuned in. Moormans is a reputable company with good products. I doubt that changing brands will make much difference. Instead I would focus on health and water quality/consumption. Start with healthy pigs, keep them de-wormed and make sure they have easy access to unlimited cool, fresh, clean water. I’ve seen clients with drinkers hooked to a garden hose which was lying in the hot summer sun. When I touched the drinker nipple to check the flow rate, the water that came out was really hot. The pigs wouldn’t drink it unless they were desperate. They weren’t drinking enough, therefore they weren’t eating enough. Be extra attentive to the water supply.
Do everything in your power to keep them cool in hot weather using misters, sprinklers, fans, mud holes; whatever you can do to keep them cool and eating. One product you might consider that we’ve been very happy with is TrueCool by True North Technologies. New antibiotic rules mean your feed likely doesn’t contain any antibiotics. This could have been a factor as well, especially if your pigs were dealing with any minor health issues that antibiotics previously covered up. I think this was a common issue last season. That’s why sourcing healthy pigs becomes even more important. I hope this helps.
Tim from Lodi, WI
Hey Darin, what are you recommending for this year’s best vaccination protocol at weaning? I’m thinking of changing to cover all basis on breeding and showpigs.
Thank you for your question.
Bare minimums (the rest will depend upon your herd health status).
Lepto/Parvo/Erysipelas pre-breeding (gilts twice pre-breeding)
Ecoli/Clostridium/(Rotavirus optional) 5 and 2 weeks pre-farrowing
Influenza – twice per year (usually give with Lepto)
Circoflex at weaning
Porcilis ileitis at weaning
Erysipelas at 40-50lbs.
If your herd has mycoplasma pneumonia (most do) use a myco vaccine as well (may be combined with circo). If your herd has rhinitis, use a rhinitis vaccine as well. If your herd has lice/mange, add a treatment for that. Either way, sows should be de-wormed prior to farrowing every time (we prefer safeguard).
Processing piglets usually an antibiotic shot on day 1 (Polyflex, Naxcel, Exceed would be my choices). Should receive iron between day 3 and 5. This is also a good time for a second dose of Polyflex, Naxcel or Exceed as well as rhinitis vaccine if you are using any. I like a shot of Baytril at weaning. The primary purpose for the antibiotic is strep control. Watch pigs post-weaning as well and any signs of dopiness, slowness, etc. inject again with Baytril before they go down and start paddling from strep.
DRYGIENE™ is very useful in reducing/eliminating E.Coli and strep in piglets. Wash/disinfect the farrowing room, then blow with DRYGIENE™. Roll piglets in DRYGIENE™ at birth being sure to coat them completely including the navel. Keep DRYGIENE™ on the mats for at least the first week as an anti-bacterial and to keep mats dry.
As always run this by your vet! Let me know if there’s anything else I can help with!
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