This is not valuable pasture swine genetics. This is the sow who helped me realize how valuable pasture swine genetics are.
Sows that are able to build a nest and farrow unassisted in a hut and nurse and wean a large litter are amazing. I didn’t fully appreciate them until I brought in some new genetics via AI and farrowed the resulting offspring.
I’ve always liked the Landrace breed and have used Landrace semen in the past with good results. Landrace are known as a maternal breed, but I also know there is tremendous variability within the breed. Back when I was a student at Iowa State using ultrasound to evaluate thousands of hogs, some of the craziest hogs that came through my chute were Landrace. And out of all the hogs I evaluated, I found three with loin measurements of over 9 square inches, (very muscular), and all three were Landrace gilts.
So I used semen from two different Landrace boars resulting in four litters. The Landrace boars were from two different, but well-respected Landrace breeders. Right away I could see a difference in the piglets. Two of the litters had the more traditional Landrace look with larger ears and deep bodies. The other two litters looked more thin-skinned with smaller ears.
I kept sixteen gilts as breeders, roughly four per litter. Eight are farrowing their second litter now. I couldn’t tell much difference last summer because of the problem I was having with piglet scours. The diarrhea was much more of a problem than sow behavior, sometimes affecting a whole litter, other times leaving a litter untouched. Many piglets died, as I wrote last fall, but as I hoped, the disease worked though the herd and I’m seeing no evidence of it now. Patience and experience helped me have faith, as it is always very difficult for me when my animals are not healthy.
Now with their second litter I can see a difference. The larger-eared, deep-sided sows calmly picked a hut and made a nest and are raising nearly all of the piglets they farrowed. The leaner, thin-skinned sows were agitated before farrowing and it continued for the first few days after farrowing.
The worst sow farrowed twelve nice piglets and crushed five. This is the sow in the photo. Possibly she would have done better in confinement?
So I continue to learn. I will cull the sows that do poorly, and incorporate the genetics of the good ones, joining my herd of excellent red sows and boars, which I appreciate now more than ever.
Thanks Mathew, very informative post. I always learn something from your experiences.
That’s great your sows are doing so well! We can’t wait to visit the litters!
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I’ve always enjoyed your thoughtful posts. If you ever get a chance to take comparative pictures of a “good” sow vs a “bad” sow, I’d be interested in seeing the differences. I understand that getting pigs to pose in the right position is hard, and that when they do pose for you inevitably it isn’t a convenient time to snap a picture. But if it works out, please do post. A friend and I have been talking about optimal body geometry for our pig herds so this is a timely topic.
Thank you, Gordon, Angel, and Dave!
Dave, that is a good idea for a blog post. But if it takes me awhile to post, I’ll sum up my philosophy now.
Form follows function. The most accurate way to identify a “good” sow is to wait until she is lactating, then count the functioning teats.
I’ve farrowed enough sows to know that my eye doesn’t count for much. What is important though, is that I like my job. So with that thinking, I select animals based on what I like to look it.