Don’t cull sow if producing enough piglets

RED DEER — There are many reasons for replacing sows in a hog operation, but the longer these females stay productive, the more profitable they become. 


“You need three parities before an animal in your herd actually starts to have a positive cash flow,” says veterinarian Frank Marshall. 


Older females with strong legs, a sound mammary system and capable of producing more piglets than average should be allowed to stay, he said at a recent swine technology seminar in Red Deer. 


The most important criterion at Pinnacle Swine Inc. is producing live pigs, said production manager Alastair Bratton. 


“I would rather manage a piglet on the ground rather than putting a dead pig in our dead bin.”


This operation keeps 12,000 sows, 18,000 nursery spaces and several contract finisher barns in Alberta. 


The number of live pigs takes priority over culling sows just because they are getting older. Bratton figures 10 to 12 percent of Pinnacle’s sows are in their seventh or more parity but are more likely to be the ones with farrowing problems, such as stillbirths. 


“No management system has been able to eliminate stillbirths, mummified or other management issues.”


To stay at Pinnacle, sows must be healthy with strong legs and be able to cycle on time. Keeping non-cycling sows in the herd costs 80 cents a day just to feed them. Utility costs, labour and feed are all expensive, so it is better to cull a sow if it costs $4 to $5 per day to maintain it. 


“They are taking the place of a sow that could be producing piglets,” said Bratton.


Pinnacle’s sows produce 27.5 to 28 piglets per year. Their prewean mortality rate is 7.5 percent. 


The company weans piglets at 18 days of age and expects them to average 5.5 kg. at that time. 


Sow history is evaluated based on the number of pigs born alive and surviving to weaning at 18 days. The bottom performers are removed.

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