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Maximising capacity

With the programme ‘Max’ing Capacity’, breeding company Hypor foresees pig production evolving into an even broader multifactorial setup, in which genetic, 
veterinarian and technical advice will be fully integrated to deliver the best results on every level. This series aims to highlight three main 
pillars of this scheme – meat 
capacity, finishing capacity and to start with – weaning capacity.

Part 1. Optimising weaning capacity


Optimising weaning capacity is the first step in establishing 
total system profitability. The success factors associated with 
this include; solid sow performance; proven sow efficiency; 
and enhanced productivity.

Solid sow performance
Solid sow performance means that the sow produces an optimal number of piglets over a long lifetime and remains a productive member of the herd until it is decided to replace her. Good ‘stayability’, retention rate and a long sow productive lifetime contribute towards achieving solid sow performance.

Stayability is the probability that a sow will stay in the herd and remain productive up to her fourth parity. It is 
partially genetically determined with a heritability of approximately 0.15. Increased profitability can be achieved through genetic improvement by selecting sows with better stayability and practicing good management. Besides genetics, the main factors influencing a sow’s longevity and performance are: handling, environment, nutrition, health, gilt acclimatisation and gilt development.

“A sow must stay in the herd for a 
minimum of three parities to bring a positive return,”explains José Ángel Pedrido, product manager at Hypor. “Assuming a fixed number of piglets weaned per parity, increasing sow longevity by half a parity results in a 10% improvement in total weaning capacity and a similar increase in profit.”

Stayability can be compromised by reproductive, or locomotive problems, suboptimal feed intake and sow mortality. Reproductive problems can be minimised by proper handling of gilts, good acclimatisation, puberty stimulation at early age, first mating at an appropriate age, optimal weight at mating and farrowing, and ensuring adequate back-fat and nutrition during gestation.
Locomotive problems can be reduced by selecting for sturdy structure and high feet and leg quality. In particular, group housing can exasperate locomotive problems, and in Europe, with 
new mandatory European Union (EU) 
legislation on loose housing and group housing for sows, soundness becomes an increasingly important issue in longevity. There is also a link between optimal feed intake during lactation, and efficient conversion of feed to milk for top production and stayability.
Having a good sow retention rate plays an important role in achieving a better bottom line. It is an excellent indicator of how well sows are lasting in a herd and is calculated as:

Sow Retention Rate =
Bred gilts entered into the herd (annually)
Removals (lifetime)

“Proper management of retention rates is known to have a positive effect on a herd’s reproductive performance,” said Egidijus Mickevicius, sales and service representative for Hypor Eastern Canada. “It can provide benefits, such as: improved return on genetic investment, farm income, herd health stability, animal welfare, employee morale, as well as reduced medication costs and biosecurity risks.”
Sow productive lifetime refers to the length of time a sow remains productive before she is removed from the herd. A sow that remains productive in the breeding herd for longer is, of course, likely to wean more piglets in her lifetime than a sow that can only stay in the herd for a couple of parities. Genetics, health, nutrition, environment and management can all play a role 
in influencing the productive lifetime 
of a sow.

Many traits must be selected for to optimise sow performance. Hypor 
factors: Age at first mating, weaning to first service interval, number of piglets born, percentage of piglets born alive, pre- and post-weaning mortality, and feet and leg scores, as well as stayability into its breeding indices.

Proven sow efficiency
Alongside increased productivity, other sow qualities are important when maximising capacity. Easier-to-manage sows (and piglets) can save costs and enhance overall efficiency. Proven sow efficiency is about factors that enable optimal sow management, such as labour, feeding and breeding.

“Hypor’s distinctive pig quality has been proven in recent studies,” says Nerea Martinez Amesti, technical service representative Hypor.” By adding phenotypic and behavioural scores to breeding value estimations, Hypor has enhanced its selection programme to produce more robust and user-friendly sows. They produce higher numbers of piglets with a higher birth weight, and lower numbers of underweight piglets. They also require less feed in gestation and lactation.”

Labour efficiency is particularly 
important. More than half of the labour required in pig production is focused on farrowing and the nursery. With sows that require little birth assistance and produce strong and vital piglets, large savings in labour and costs can be achieved. Improved piglet quality and uniformity also lowers labour requirements.

Feed costs account for approximately 70% of production expenses and are increasing on a daily basis. A sow’s feed consumption accounts for 30% of the cost of production of an 18 kg pig. Improving feed efficiency is important in reducing costs. It is important to bear in mind the feed efficiency of 
the sow when working towards total system profitability.

“Feed efficiency is integral to Hypor’s balanced breeding philosophy,” remarks Ernie Meyer. “It has been an important part of our breeding programme for over a decade and as well as dam and boar feed efficiencies we consider weaned piglet feed efficiencies. As well as selection indices for carcass quality, and growth rate, weight uniformity is measured. Weight 
uniformity in piglets is important. 
The more uniform the pigs’ weight, 
the more targeted and efficient any nutritional programme can be.”
In addition to using dam lines that are designed to be more efficient, management practices can help save feed and optimise production including: using more productive sows, minimising waste in feed systems, optimising 
temperature control and feeding during lactation.

Efficient breeding means optimising breeding parameters, such as getting the age and weight of gilts right at first mating and weaning for first service interval. Age and weight at first mating has always been a topic of great discussion. Hypor’s breeding programme targets 235 days as the best age for first mating. Mating at the second or third oestrus improves conception rate and produces bigger first litters.
The difference of even one day in weaning to first service can strongly impact profit. In addition to weaning more pigs per year, reducing the 
weaning to first service interval also lowers herd maintenance costs. To achieve this, maximise feed intake 
during lactation, use multiple boars, or a trailer boar, if possible, during heat detection and stimulation. Sows also react more positively to odorous, noisy boars. A pheromone spray can be used to emphasise the presence of younger boars.

Enhanced productivity
Every pig producer’s objective is to produce large litters of good quality piglets with good and homogenous birth weight, enabling a large number of piglets weaned at good weight. In enhanced productivity, birth and weaning weights, weight uniformity and piglet survivability contribute towards maximising capacity. A piglet’s birth weight has a substantial impact on the time to get it to market weight. Optimal birth and weaning weights enable pig producers to reduce feed- and medication costs, both before and after weaning.

The average birth weight of each piglet and the total litter's weight have a heritability of 0.25 and 0.15 respectively. However, litter size and piglet quality have a negative correlation with birth weight and piglet's energy, survival rate up to weaning, and weight at weaning. Other important characteristics in 
piglet weight, quality and survival are quality, number and facility of access to teats, as well as the sows’ physical strength.

In addition to these traits, good nutrition helps support enhanced productivity. A wide range of studies show that the provision of organic minerals in the sows’ diet during gestation and lactation benefits piglets at birth, at weaning and later. The sow must not be overfed during gestation, only increasing intake during the last 21 to 28 days. Several recent investigations carried out in France suggest that adding oils in diets may result in a higher survival rate in smaller piglets and in higher weights at weaning.
It is very important that sows are in peak health. Extra care should be taken to avoid Post Partum Disgalactia Syndrome (PPDS). Good implantation, avoiding stress at 12-24 days is vital.
With birth, all piglets must receive enough colostrum during the first six hours from birth, as well as an adequate supply of milk up to weaning. There is a direct correlation between colostrum ingestion and survival during the first 48-72 hours of life. First-time-mother sows should be challenged to produce enough milk for 14 big, healthy and energetic piglets to ensure good mammary development and better capacity to produce milk for future litters.

Homogeneous piglet production helps maximise their potential in later stages and reduce production costs. The 
correct choice of genetics for a sow and a boar line also influences piglet survivability. Some pigs thrive better in hot climates, others have a better milk composition and then again others have more resistance to diseases. For piglet survivability, the most important selection criteria are:

* Breeding for maximum uterus capacity: This facilitates already at foetal stage the development of a high number of equally sized piglets to be born.
* Selection on birth weight: The 
survival of piglets after birth is directly linked to birth weight.
* Position, number and quality of teats: No decent access to milk for the piglets means higher mortality.
* Capacity for milk production: Ability to wean 14 strong and healthy piglets requires a physiology that is genetically fitted for high production of milk.
* Choice of a boar line: Depending on for example climate or housing conditions some boar lines are more favourable in certain conditions, as their offspring seems to be more adapted to it.
* Selection for optimal feed intake of sows and good leg quality also play an important role.

Health is a major player in piglet 
survivability. The sows’ health-status during gestation will determine the development of piglets in the uterus. A tailored vaccination programme will ensure the quality of the newborn piglets and will also provide high levels of MDA (Maternally Derived Antibodies) in the colostrum. Appropriate health-management of sows during lactation will influence the quality of the weaned piglets greatly. Furthermore, the piglets require their own health scheme.

Good management is also critical requiring effective feeding schemes before and after farrowing, good protocols against MMA (Mastitis-Metritis-Agalactia), to initiate milk production immediately and at a high level. 
Feed and water quality is also very important. Handling newborn piglets is crucial: make sure they get sufficient colostrum after birth and make sure temperature is high enough for the 


Source: Pig Progress magazine. Volume 26.5 (2013)


  • Maximising capacity

    Solid sow performance means that the sow produces optimal numbers of piglets over a long lifetime.

  • Maximising capacity

    Proven sow efficiency is about factors that enable optimal sow management, such as laout, feeding and breeding.

  • Maximising capacity

    In enhanced productivity, birth and weaning weights, weight unifority and piglet survivability contribute towards maximising capacity.

Wouter Deley

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