Reproductive Technology Does More Than Save Time on Pig Farms

( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

By Amanda Minton, The Maschhoffs

The primary reason for utilizing reproductive technologies is often the dissemination of superior genetics. Many could argue, depending on the technology, that there is also a labor and time efficiency benefit. While this is likely true, quantifying the value of the efficiency gained is hard to do and usually doesn’t compare with the increase in pig value. 

Through internal research trials at The Maschhoffs, we know the range in value among sire lines and even individual boars within a line, is upwards of $8 per pig harvested. With this large of a bogey, it is prudent to evaluate reproductive technologies in order to increase the use of our best boars.

Over the last five years, the Maschhoffs has decreased boar inventory by 30% through steps dictated by reproductive research. Along the way, we’ve evaluated technologies that have great potential to improve pig value but prove difficult to implement. If production practices cannot be adapted, then we stand to lose more than we gain. We’ve also learned when a technology is promoted as a time saver, rather than creating genetic value, other critical tasks oftentimes get rushed. 

An example of this is the use of post-cervical artificial insemination (PCAI). It is still vital to dedicate adequate time to boar exposure and heat detection prior to breeding but this is often hurried, impacting reproductive performance.  

Our first step was to evaluate sperm cell count per dose using cervical artificial insemination (AI). Farrowing rate and litter size data demonstrated that pooled doses could be decreased to 2 billion total sperm with AI. This change had little impact on day-to-day operations at the sow farms and was easy to implement. 

The incorporation of PCAI has further reduced sperm cells per dose; using either single doses or bulk bags. An internal study showed doses at 1.4 billion total cells resulted in acceptable pregnancy rates. Bulk bags do require focus on implementation, however. We found sperm per dose declined by 12% without intentional mixing of the bulk bag. Because of this, most of the PCAI we use today is done with single doses. Although using the bags saves time at the sow farm and the boar stud, it is too easy to forget to mix the bag while breeding sows.

Lastly, the use of single fixed-time AI (SFTAI) allows one dose of semen to be used on weaned sows. Our research shows no difference in farrowing rate or total born. However, due to the importance of timing of matings after weaning, this technology can only be successfully applied on a subset of farms.  

To summarize, a technology can produce favorable results during a research trial, but execution at the sow farm level is paramount. Oftentimes, changes made at the boar stud are simpler to implement and those technologies are more widely adopted (see table below). 

For the Maschhoffs system, the reduction in sperm per dose and use of PCAI has been fully implemented. In light of concerns with execution, most PCAI is done with single doses versus bulk bags and only a small proportion of the system is utilizing SFTAI. Through the use of reproductive technologies, boar inventory has decreased which has resulted in an increase of $0.52 per harvested pig. 

Technology

Boar Stud Sow Farm Outcome
       

Sperm per dose

++++ NA 100%

PCAI (sows)

NA +++++ 100%

Low dose

++++ +++++ 77%

Bulk bag

+++++ ++ 10%

SFTAI

NA ++ 15%

Difficulty Rating with + = hard and +++++ = easiest.

Amanda Minton is the associate director of reproductive technology for The Maschhoffs. She is responsible for oversight of innovative reproductive research and boar stud operations. She received her bachelor’s degree in animal science from Purdue University and her master’s degree in reproductive physiology from the University of Missouri.
 

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