#9 More Piglets! Total Born and Born Alive
“With all of the remodels and moving sows to off-site gestation, depop/repops and ongoing battles with PRRS, the fact that 87% of our sow farms increased their total born and 82% increased their born alive shows you the kind of people we have,” said Don Hunt, Senior Sow Supervisor. “They’ve done a tremendous job staying focused through all of the changes. There is a spirit and dedication not only to their role as caretakers, but also in proving they can meet goals that get higher and higher every year.”
As the data cruncher for all of the sow farms, Don monitors the metrics coming in from the farms daily, analyzing for trends and running them through formulas that determine the weekly SelectPride ranking and quarterly winners.
And Don’s numbers show exactly how hard our teams have worked towards our goal of producing a billion pounds of pork this year. This year our 38 sow farms collectively increased their average born alive from 12.3 to 12.6 piglets and wean average from 10.4 to 10.7 piglets.
“When you have 38 farms increasing just slightly in total born or farrowing rate, that in turn makes huge dividends for the whole system,” said Don. “It takes a lot of effort and grit to keep pushing to increase production through the everyday struggles that come your way, but is very rewarding in the end to know that you have persevered.”
Currently, 87% of our 38 sow farms increased their total born (all pigs born in a given litter, including mummies and stillborn piglets) and 82% of our sow farms increased their born alive.
Sixty percent of our 38 sow farms increased their total born conversion, a number that represents the percentage of total born piglets that made it to weaning (21 days of age).
Seventy-six percent of our 38 farms increased their wean average, a number that represents the average number of pigs weaned in a litter (total born minus stillborns, mummies and piglets that were born alive but didn’t survive due to being crushed by the mother, too small/unthrifty or unable to successfully suckle).
Finally, 55% of our 38 sow farms increased their farrow rate, which is the percentage of sows who were bred that farrowed.
“Our focus was to work on the details,” said Doug Bates, who managed both Sow 16 and Sow 17 this year and will soon be managing our newest sow farm near Last Chance, Iowa. Doug has a veteran crew at Sow 16, a farm that is repeatedly at the top of the SelectPride ranking. “Our team has a lot of experience, so it’s really about making small changes to try to improve,” said Doug. “For instance, we increased our farrow rate, total born and born alive by using multiple boars for exposure, which resulted in better heat checking. And then we slowed down our PCAI (breeding) process.”
Doug also said at times piglets were scouring over in farrowing, which led to higher pre-wean mortality. “We got aggressive and used a feedback strategy for select groups and it helped us save a lot of piglets.”
The farrowing team also “sets litters,” which means they count the sows’ teats to make sure they have one for each piglet in the litter. If they don’t, Doug says his farrowing team will move piglets that would otherwise starve over to another sow.
“Total born and born alive is always in the front of our minds as those numbers are a good measuring stick as to how your farm is performing,” said Gerhard Badenhorst, manager of Sow 116 near Galt, who said this year they focused on three things to improve total born and born alive. “We believe if you breed the right sow and provide her the right amount of feed, then give her assistance in the farrowing process you’ll be set up for success,” said Gerhard.
Gerhard said they paid a lot of attention to the health and body condition of each sow and allocated feed accordingly, and then only bred sows in the right condition.
“We also worked hard to make sure our day one lead’s were checking litters frequently and during the right time of the day to get those newborns warm, dry and suckling colostrum, because all three of those are key to piglet survival," said Gerhard.
“To maintain any goals on a sow farm you have to work as a team,” said Lawra Mathes, manager of Sow 21 near Murray, a farm that increased their farrowing rate this year. “I have four breeders who I couldn’t be more proud of as they’ve been working extra hard on their breeding techniques, which shows when we confirm the pregnancies with our ultrasound, and of course seeing the big litters in farrowing is the ultimate reward for the entire crew.”
Lawra echoes what Gerhard and Doug said about says boar exposure in breeding, and making sure sows have good body conditions with the right amount of nutrition. Don also adds that there was a lot of progress made in the GDUs this year, in terms of better selection and an overall improvement in gilt quality. “Because gilts make up 20% of the farm’s sows that means 20% of the farrowings are better.”
“Anytime there is an improvement in the sow system it is a result of a lot of work and focus from a lot of teams,” said Don, who is referring to the gene transfer centers that provide daily doses of fresh semen, the multiplication farms that produce the replacement gilts, the gilt growers, the gilt development units and then of course the caretakers at the sow farms. Not to mention the transportation, maintenance, health services, recordkeeping, production well-being and HR teams who are all there to help with specialized support.
“Every person behind each step has made a contribution. It’s never one thing, it’s a collective push to try to do everything better at every step so we can improve, and it’s been a tremendous year,” said Don. “The farm managers and their teams have been asked to do a lot of extra work—everyone has—and all of the teams should be celebrating and taking the time to reflect on what they have accomplished, because it’s pretty impressive. #billionpounds