By John Gadd
Continuing the military analogy of last month’s column, where I described the first trigger to be defused in helping the modern hyperprolific gilts to raise a numerous and heavy first litter, we now come to what is often found in such devices – the second trigger to catch the unwary – the hidden booby trap. This does catch a lot of producers unawares. This is the short productive life which results from inadequate management and feeding of the gilt to first service. There are two parts to this nasty device lying in wait for the producer…
After three to four days quarantine well away from the herd, provide a sufficiently long induction or acclimatisation period. Just as important, this comprises two weeks challenge period followed by a four weeks fortification period – six weeks if PRRS is about. A gilt pool is the place to use.
The challenge period must be planned and kept up-to-date with your herd’s disease profile by a pig specialist veterinarian who knows the regular tests needed to keep abreast of changes on your farm, in your locality and who liaises with your supplier’s farm. He can suggest natural measures – such as fenceline contact, intensity and duration – as well as vaccination back-up. Too many producers I visit do this themselves with no recourse to testing and tend to stick to one routine that they think is a well-tried system.
The fortification period is a period of rest and comfort with no challenges made. The gilts are left in peace – quiet, comfortable and contented. This is where the time element is allowed to work. The booby trap will be triggered if the breeder is impatient. Yes, it will cost more but the payback is far greater.
Why space? I suggest that gilts are housed far too close together. Sexual excitement before oestrus with planned stimulation and encouragement of ovulation through flushing (feeding) are all to the good, but are too often confused with stress. The former encourages and manages reproductive hormones while stress does the opposite – different hormones are involved which antagonise/ neutralise the beneficial ones. As well as fear (aggression), remember that stress is also anxiety and worry and is just as damaging.
So you must not overstock and even go further – allow enough ‘fleeing space’. I suggest 3 m2/ gilt is minimal with the pens as near square as can be accommodated. Long, narrow pens need more space as they make fleeing more difficult. Bedding (straw) gives a feeling of contentment and is better than hard standing except in hot climates and summers. So…