Making Every Sow Mating Count

Look Beyond Farrowing Rate to Improve Sow Reproduction Efficiency

By Sergio Canavate, Ph.D., PIC Technical Services manager

Traditionally, when farrowing rate trends are flat or down, the first instinct is to blame sow breeding practices or semen quality. However, many factors can influence the farrowing rate. Data often points to factors other than breeding practices.

PIC took a deep dive to look at trends and better understand the many factors affecting farrowing rate and how they impact each other on a system level.

The goal? Improve sow reproduction efficiency and make every sow mating count.

Swine reproduction trends trends

PIC global benchmarking data revealed three key points:

  • Farrowing rate trends have remained flat over the last five years.
  • The top 10% of sows have a farrowing rate between five to six percentage points higher than the average.
  • Sow death rate (in the same period) increased one point per year. Both the mean and the top 10% to 25% of the sample saw an increase, indicating farrowing rate and sow death rate root causes are closely connected.

What does this mean?

Pork producers have made strides in swine reproduction management, including improved semen handling, semen quality and the use of breeding tools for females. Additional opportunities for improvement include female quality, environmental factors and health.

Pig Improvement Company sow reproduction

Find the root cause of changes in farrowing rate

When farms have farrowing rate challenges, a common reaction is to protect farm throughput.

That usually means increasing the number of matings to compensate for losses and maintain weekly farrowing numbers. For example, if a 5,600-sow farm increases weekly matings by 3%, it must breed 10 more sows per week. In a 20-week sow reproduction cycle, breeding 200 more sows would require 200 more animals than the farm has in inventory.

While protecting throughput with increased matings can help temporarily, it’s best paired with finding the root of the challenge and identifying a long-term solution.

If the root farrowing rate problem is not fixed, the temporary solution sets off a chain reaction of additional challenges. A quick-fix approach can lead to higher sow inventory, a higher pool of opportunity females bred, inconsistent gilt utilization and fluctuations in the number of sows bred and farrowed per week.

Use data to improve sow reproduction efficiency

Rather than focusing solely on farrowing rate issues, shift to analyzing overall sow reproduction efficiency. It’s important to analyze exactly where the reproductive failures are happening. In which part of the sow gestation period are challenges occurring? What kind of reproductive failure issue does a farm have? What happened with the other 10-20% that didn’t farrow? With data, you can understand and fix the root cause of any reproductive issues.

Identifying the root cause of reproduction challenges should be part of the production and technical service routine. Building this into an operation’s routine helps to proactively address challenges before they escalate.

Contact your PIC team or find resources in the PIC Reproduction Resource Center.