Outdoor Swine Genetics, Part 2

July 19, 2017

 

My livestock breeding philosophy is simple in theory and difficult in practice.  It can be summed up in two words: Problem-Free.  Problem-free livestock are under-appreciated and difficult to observe.  It often requires a problem to present itself before you can fully appreciate the absence of the problem.

The good thing about my 40 plus years experience in the livestock industry is the amount of problems I have observed and worked through.  And I always choose to work through problems as that is the way I was taught by my parents and makes the most sense.  I’ve never succumbed to the siren call of all-new breeding stock as common sense tells me I’ll just be trading known problems in my own stock for the unknown and possibly worse problems in the new stock.  Because all stock has problems, its just that very few problems are visible with one viewing.

I have had very good luck with herd health by practicing a modified closed system with breeding stock.  Meaning I never bring in animals from an outside herd, but I get new genetics through purchased boar semen.  There are some diseases that can be transmitted through semen, but the reputable boar studs regularly test the studs for those diseases.

I would practice a completely closed system if I could figure out a way I wouldn’t be losing too much efficiency from inbreeding depression.  Inbreeding depression is the tendency for animals that are inbred to perform worse than the average of their parents.  Conversely, crossbreeding results in hybrid vigor, which is the tendency for crossbred animals to perform better than the average of their parents.

However, I’m not afraid of linebreeding.  A fun definition for linebreeding is that it is successful inbreeding.  Practical examples of inbreeding and linebreeding in my mind are: a brother/sister mating is inbreeding, a first cousin mating is linebreeding.  This is just my own way of looking at it.  A geneticist will tell you that all linebreeding is technically inbreeding.

A geneticist can analyze the full pedigree of an animal and calculate the inbreeding coefficient, which is the probability that any one pair of genes is identical.  So it is expressed from 0 to 1.  For example, a full brother/sister mating if the parents of the siblings were completely unrelated, would have an inbreeding coefficient of .5, meaning there is a 50% likelihood that any pair of genes is identical.

So along with a modified closed herd, I practice my own unusual combination of crossbreeding and linebreeding.  I guess my curiosity makes me want to sample different genetics to see what I may be missing, but my practical side makes me want to not change my herd too rapidly, especially if I have no perceived problems.

What does this look like in practice?  The boar in the top photo is Drew, his paternal grandsire was Dru, terminal line semen from SGI.  Everyone knows what maternal is, but in livestock breeding we use the phrase terminal when we want to ignore the maternal side and concentrate on the meat traits.  Obviously no line is completely terminal or their would be no reproduction.

So I kept no gilts from the offspring of the Dru semen.  I did however keep a few boars.  The litters were born in the blizzard of March, 2013 when I was having a difficult time keeping the piglets from freezing.  Drew’s sire was one of three piglets which survived out of a litter of 12.  He looked good and I figured I had inadvertently selected for piglet survivability.  So I kept him as a boar and he turned out to be a great sire of robust, meaty piglets.

Drew’s maternal grandsire was the Landrace, True Blue semen I wrote about in my last post.  True Blue sired two litters, 30 and 31.  I kept about four gilts out of each litter and they’ve been excellent mothers, with the 31 litter gilts a little more to my liking phenotypically.

So I planned and kept four boars out of one of the 31 litter sows.  I sold a couple of boars to a local producer and I kept a couple and they were breeding fine.  A competitor at my farmers’ market called and said he really needed a working  boar.  Some people are very competitive at farmers markets, but I prefer to be collaborative as I feel our real competition is Walmart and the whole idea that cheap food is good.  So I sold him one of the boars.  I guess those genetics will be well represented in the pork at the Madison farmers markets.

How I linebreed:  I really like the 31 litter sows.  I have a planned mating with my favorite with Duroc semen, a Waldo boar called Red Zone.  I asked SGI for their most maternal Duroc and he’s what they gave me.  I plan on keeping all the boars from that litter and possibly adding a couple as sires.

I have another mating with various sows, some of which are the 31 litter sows, AId to a Chester White boar, Mr. Longevity.  I wanted to sample the Chester White as it is an American heritage breed.  I plan to keep gilts out of these litters if they meet my standards.

If all goes as planned I will be mating the Red Zone sons with the Mr. Longevity daughters, some of which will be a first cousin mating if each of their respective moms is a 31 litter sow as the 31 litter sows are full sisters of course.  This is as tight of linebreeding as I like to practice.

And while I will be evaluating the new genetics, which could still become a terminal line in my herd if I don’t like their performance, I’m also evaluating and looking for any genetic problems which are more likely to show up in the offspring of this first cousin mating.  Because even at this point I can choose to make the 31 litter a terminal line.

Larry, the boar in the photo below, represents my established genetics.  I am really happy with how these hogs perform, mostly because they are problem-free.  I have to keep reminding myself of this, though.  Because as geneticists we are taught to always be selecting and moving the genotype in some direction.

Well, I gave myself permission to stop thinking like a geneticist, and start thinking like a busy farmer who direct-markets meat on Saturdays and plays disc golf on Sundays.  I select animals for breeding within this herd based on what I like to look at, mostly interesting color patterns.  This has been one of the most difficult admissions I’ve made on this blog as my old geneticist buddies would be laughing or crying if they read this, but they know me, so they probably wouldn’t be surprised!

For a good example, Larry was selected because I missed a boar piglet when I was castrating litters.  I usually castrate at a couple days of age.  By the time I saw him, he was weaning age, and he looked pretty good, and he has this interesting brindle color pattern, and I realized I could use a boar about the time he would come of age…   Well Larry has been terrific, a good breeder, sires great pigs, and I’ll be keeping his first daughters back as breeders soon.

This concludes my two parter on Swine Genetics.  I hope its comprehensible for any of you who made it all they way through.  Any questions or comments as always welcome.

 

 


Outdoor Swine Genetics, Part 1

July 3, 2017

 

Kevin, a reader of this blog from Missouri, asked me for some pointers on outdoor hog genetics.  His son has been raising hogs and plans to expand his breeding stock herd to meet a new marketing opportunity.  Since he wants to expand quickly, he’s going to need to purchase females, either gilts or sows.

I recommended he find one herd to purchase from for health reasons instead of purchasing from several different herds.  For outdoor swine genetics in Missouri I recommended contacting Kelly Klober ,as he is the expert down there.  If he wanted to try conventional genetics, I’ve been pleased with the offspring from AI from Waldo Genetics in Nebraska.

I’m a believer in keeping your females from within your herd, usually out of your best sows.  I guess I’m also a believer in keeping your boars from within your herd, as the last time I brought in live breeding stock was August of 1994.  To get new genetics, I’ve purchased fresh boar semen, almost exclusively from SGI in Iowa.

I used to pick my AI boars based on figures and phenotype.  This is the more expensive option as SGI charges more if you pick the boar.  The last few years I’ve had the salesman pick the boar as I realized they know the boars better than I.  I almost always ask for mothering ability and meat quality.  A couple times ago I asked for an aggressive natural breeder and they selected a boar called Wonka, and sure enough, his sons were excellent breeders.

I’ve never had any problem with any line of hogs not wanting to graze, especially if they are limit fed.  If they are on full feed of grain, they will spend more time rooting out of boredom and less time eating forages.

The sows and gilts in these two photos are receiving three pounds of grain each.  This is roughly half of what they would need if they had no access to forage, and only a quarter of what they would eat if they were on full feed of grain.  So these hogs take grazing seriously and don’t spend much time rooting except for in their wallow.

I have however experienced gilts and sows who had poor instincts for outdoor farrowing.  Even with many generations farrowing outdoors on the mother’s side, the wrong AI boar can sire nervous, poor instinct, mothers.

The sow in the top photo is out of an AI Landrace boar called True Blue.  All the sows out of True Blue are excellent outdoor mothers, farrowing and raising large litters.  Samsung is an AI Landrace sire I used at the same time and added several of his offspring to my herd.  These sows however, farrowed large litters, but were nervous and crushed up to half of their offspring.  They also showed very little instinct for nest building.

That’s the problem with using AI from conventional producers.  It’s hit and miss.  There are so few producers farrowing and raising outdoor hogs, there is really no knowledge of these instincts.  I’m sure the daughters of Samsung would have worked fine in confinement.  Much better probably than my red sows which grow to over 600 lbs and would not even fit properly in the gestation and farrowing crates that most of the industry uses.

Maybe some sort of organization for outdoor swine breeders would be nice.  But I’m not much of an organizer.  I guess the best I can do right now is share my experiences and read about others’ experiences on their blogs.  My next post is going to go into more detail about my breeding philosophy.


Farrowing Sows Need More Space

March 14, 2017

 

“I don’t know how you do it.  We tried that years ago and it was terrible.  The sows laid on most of their piglets.  We’d have sows wean two, three piglets.  We didn’t do that long.  That’s when we got into beef cattle,” said the old farmer I was visiting with at a free lunch at the Bobcat dealership.

“We farrowed in A-frame huts.  We made bumpers to keep the piglets away from the sow.  We even had a corner where we hung a heat lamp.  Nothing seemed to work.”

 

The sows in these photos average 11 piglets each.  After hearing other farmers’ horror stories about not using confinement to farrow, I figured if I could average 7 piglets per sow I would be happy.  It turns out that switching from confinement to farrowing huts has not come with any drop in production as my sows consistently average 9 piglets weaned.  I have been pleasantly surprised and attribute this success to a few factors.

The one factor I think farmers think of first is the genetics of the sow.  Even though I studied genetics in college, I think this factor is overrated.  My Duroc sows, while not farrowing as many piglets as my Landrace, still wean a good average.

I think it is possible to find a line that doesn’t work well outside of confinement, as mainstream genetics are not being tested for farrowing success outside of confinement.  Consequently, I look at genetics as more of a pass/fail type of trait.

By far the bigger factor in my mind is giving the sows enough space, and getting out of their way.  This is difficult for farmers, because we have a craving to control and a strong work ethic.  Its taken me awhile to understand this, but I’ll explain my thinking.

First, I remember my Dad’s stories and my personal experience as a kid.  Dad built A-frame huts and farrowed in them with little success.  Dad transitioned to all farrowing crates in a heated former dairy barn.  He would have to move the sows from their gestating pen/pasture to a farrowing crate before they farrowed.

Being busy, sometimes Dad would miss a sow and she would build a nest and farrow in the pasture.  Remarkably, these sows would consistently raise large litters on pasture with no shelter.  We always attributed the success to the quality of the sow.

I had an inkling that space could be a factor, so I purchased the English style farrowing hut, which is the largest I could find.  They are 9 ft. by 5.5 ft, whereas the basic farrowing hut is 7 ft. by 4.5 ft.

I didn’t plan to use a heat lamp or bumpers to try and keep the piglets away from the sow and I’m glad I didn’t.  As these “solutions” would just confine the sow more, and common sense tells you newborn piglets want to be as close to their mom as possible.

The final thing I do is allow the sow to build her own nest.  Apart from making sure the bottom of the dirt hut is dry with a little bedding to absorb moisture, I place loose straw or hay outside the huts and watch as the sow carries mouthful after mouthful until she has determined the nest is ready.

Sometimes it appears to me the sow has carried in too much bedding.  The sow in these two photos built her nest and started farrowing sometime between 4 pm and 7 am.  I found her with new piglets this morning as the thermometer read 11 degrees F.  I actually had to remove a little bedding so I could fit the roller on the door of the hut.

 


Resilient Swine

December 18, 2016

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December 18th, 2016, 4 pm.  3 degrees below zero Farenheit, 17 degrees below zero windchill.  8 week old piglets with their mothers.

Pigs are resilient.  I continue to be amazed at just how resilient.  My background and education in the commodity swine industry tells me these piglets should just die in this environment, but I’ve always tried to be one who observes what is actually happening, rather than closing my eyes and “knowing” what should be happening.

I have a hoop building cleaned and bedded with feed in the feeder.  I’ve been trying to let the piglets self-wean for a few days, and even though they are going in the hoop building to eat feed, they prefer to spend their resting time with their mothers.  I guess I’ll corral them one of these days to finish the weaning process.

 

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Pick the Best Sow Contest: Conclusion

May 4, 2016

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This is the conclusion of a contest to pick the best of four sows.  The best defined as the sow with the most live piglets at one week of age.  The previous two posts give you more background in case you missed them.

Previously I wrote that sow #3 had 13 live piglets and sow #1 had 10 live piglets.  At a week of age, sow #3 still had 13 piglets and sow #1 lost one and had 9 piglets.

Since then, Sow #2 farrowed 11 piglets of which she has 9 left.  The third photo is of her red piglets.

Sow #4 farrowed 17 beautiful, live, piglets, top photo.  At 24 hours, she still had 15 live piglets and I was counting chickens and thinking about setting a new farm record and awarding the prize to Valerie who guessed sow #4 with 13 piglets.  Sow #4 was also my guess so I was feeling a little smug.

But as is so often the case in farming, my celebration was short-lived.  It rained all day and in another 24 hours, 13 of sow #4’s piglets had died from diarrhea.  The next photo shows two live piglets and one dead.

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Sow #3’s litter of 9 piglets.

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The two remaining piglets of sow #4 are doing fine.  She has joined her litter with the other white sow #3’s litter.  The photo below is of those 15 piglets.

The red sows are choosing to keep their piglets segregated as of now.  Probably the longer they can stay apart from the herd, more of their piglets will live as some may be crushed or starve if competition is too great.

I really appreciate the pasture mothering ability of the red sows.  The white sows are more unpredictable, but I like the extra numbers they produce, so I’ll probably keep some daughters and incorporate their genetics into my herd.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the contest.  Congratulations to Gordon who picked sow #3 with 12 piglets.  Gordon is a new farmer in Iowa.  Edmund came in a close second, picking sow #3 with 11 piglets.

I decided to give a $25 Kiva gift card to each of them.  Let me know guys if you don’t receive an email from Kiva or have trouble redeeming your card.

 

 

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Pick the Best Sow Contest: Update1

April 28, 2016

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Two sows have farrowed and contest entry is closed.  Remember, the contest is which sow has the most piglets alive after one week.  So here is the update:

Sow #3 farrowed 4/27, 17 piglets, 13 alive after 24 hours.

Sow #1 farrowed 4/27, 11 piglets, 10 alive after 24 hours.

Guesses:

Dave Perozzi, #1-14 piglets

Cathylee, #2-11 piglets

Ellie K, #2-9 piglets

Gordon Milligan, #3-12 piglets

Edmund, #3-11 piglets

Valerie, #4-13 piglets

My guess is Valerie will win, but all the guesses are reasonable.  I really like my red sows, #1 is my favorite phenotypically, (how she looks), but it is hard to bet against the white sows because they are half Landrace and the Landrace breed is know to crank out the piglets.

Both of these sows are good mothers and made nests, the #3 sow worked all morning carrying hay to make her nest.  Its cold here today, in the 40s F, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem.

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Contest: Pick the Best Sow

April 25, 2016

Dave Perozzi commented on my last post about valuable pasture swine genetics and asked me to show pictures of “good” vs. “bad” sows.  You can read my reply here.  I told Dave that is a great idea for a blog post, so I came up with this idea for a contest.

Out of the four sows pictured below, pick the sow who will have the most live piglets at one week after farrowing.  I’m using one week as a stand-in for weaning because any death loss after the piglets start leaving their hut is minimal and difficult to measure.  As a tiebreaker, guess the number of piglets the winning sow will have at one week.

Contest entry will close Thursday,  April 28th at 7 am.

The winner of the contest will receive a $25 gift certificate at Kiva.  Kiva is micro finance, an idea I love that helps connect lenders to borrowers, often in developing countries which may have limited access to capital.

A description of each sow is below each photo.  The red sows will be having their fourth litter.  The white sows will be having their second litter.  I’ll talk more about each sow in my comments and in a future post.

Good luck!

 

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#1: Slightly erect-eared red sow

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#2: Drooping ear red sow

 

DSCF2349#3: Drooping ear blue-butt

DSCF2354#4: Drooping ear white sow