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Fast Track To 30 Pigs Per Sow

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Achieving 30 pigs weaned per sow is a target that just a few producers hit, but to do it from a standing start, with a new barn, in just 12 months seems nothing short of impossible.

Yet that is exactly what hog boss Martin Waldner and his team have done at Hartland Colony, near Bashaw, Alberta, where an 800-sow farrow operation was set up in 2008.

Members of Pleasant Valley Colony, just east of Lacombe, started work on the new barn in November 2006, carrying out most of the work themselves, and the first gilts were bred at the end of February 2008. By January 2009, the herd records show that the 30-pigs-per-sow milestone had been reached.

Unlike most new barns, the unit was designed for high performance from the start. “We based everything on 12 pigs weaned per sow and the nursery and finisher rooms were sized accordingly,” explains Waldner.

The starting point for such high performance is the gilt, Waldner says. Hartland breeds its own F1 gilts from pure Landrace females mated to a Large White boar, while the initial stocking and some subsequent replacement was done with F1 gilts from Fast Genetics.

“Our home-bred gilts are moved out of the finishing barn at 120 to 140 lbs. and into a dedicated isolation unit away from the barn, Waldner explains.

“They are housed in part-slatted pens to help develop strong legs and fed a gilt developer diet. We want to have good bone strength and so we don’t push them too hard.”

Any heats observed in isolation are recorded and gilts are later moved to the breeding area, where they are mated at their third heat and at a minimum of 220 days. This attention to detail is reflected in the first litter size, which was 13.3 total born in 2009, and the extremely low drop-out rate of gilts and first parity females.

In the breeding barn, gilts are housed in groups of four to five and weaned sows are placed in single pens opposite a row of boar pens. All breeding is natural, using pure Duroc boars from Fast Genetics, and the regime is simple and effective.

“All gilts and sows are bred twice, with a 24-hour interval,” notes Waldner. Immediately after service, females are moved into the gestation stalls. Sows receive six lbs. of feed for the first week and then are fed to regain any condition lost during lactation.

“Sows may get up to 10 lbs. per day if necessary, but we check sow condition weekly and adjust feed the level downwards as sows regain condition,” says Waldner.

“From day 56 up until day 84, all sows receive six lbs. per day and then feed is increased again until just before farrowing.”

Once in the farrowing pens, care is taken not to overfeed as this can cause udder problems and reduce lactation feed intake. Sows farrow naturally, but are carefully observed whenever possible to minimize stillbirths and to make sure piglets receive adequate colostrum.

Fostering is a key aspect of management with such high litter size and surplus piglets are placed on a sow that has had her litter weaned into a supplementary rearing pen at seven days of age. Heated boxes at the end of each row of crates provide a warm environment and the pigs are fed liquid milk and a highly digestible creep ration.

The farrowing pens are eight-feet long and six feet, six inches wide in order to accommodate large litters of big piglets. Sow feeding is geared to maximizing milk supply, with sows starting on four lbs./day at farrowing and increasing by one lb. per day during the first week, then by two lbs. per day after that until their intake limit is reached.

“Once sows are eating 12 lbs. of feed per day, we start feeding three times per day, at 8 a. m., 2:30 p. m. and 7:30 p. m.,” Waldner said. “Sows will typically reach an intake of about 24 lbs. per day and sometimes up to 28 lbs., while gilts eat about 20 lbs. Such high feed intake not only ensures that sows are weaned in good condition, but that they wean heavy piglets. So far in 2010, weaning weight for nearly 5,000 piglets has averaged 19.3 lbs. (8.8kg) at 25 days.

Looking at the herd records, it’s hard to fault anything and most aspects of performance put this herd in the top few per cent in the world. Litter size increases steadily through the parity range, with 16.5 total born in parity four. Overall herd output has been consistently around the 30 pigs weaned/sow mark for more than a year.

The only issue that needs addressing, Waldner points out is the herd parity structure. “We didn’t bring in enough gilts and so we have a lot of sows in parity four and five that will need replacing soon,” he says. “Our goal is now to establish a stable parity structure, which will result in more consistent production.”

Bernie Peet is president of Pork Chain Consulting of Lacombe, Alberta, and editor of Western Hog Journal

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