A few weeks back, we had one of our clients stop by our Sioux Falls office for a cup of coffee. As we begin visiting about the state of it all, the topic of conception rates came up as our client had just recently started implementing our suggested strategy for introducing breed sow (gilts) back into the pen. His results were so surprising and wonderful, he asked why we hadn't forced him to do it this way months ago!
What you need know.
This is not a shortcut or easier process, it does require more time spent with each group that you are re-introducing. Timing is critical as getting the girls "settled" before implantation begins is really the key.
It is best to set up the flow of any particular pen to fill or "roll over" the population in the pen in a 12 – 18 day timeframe. With this flow of animals in place, the sows that are late-term pregnancies will largely remain segregated from new entry animals. This is largely because sows and gilts will establish social order and grouping shortly after introduction to a pen, and this structure will remain in place for as long as the girls are together. Understanding this is key to making a pen work and understanding why problems may arise if the introduction is mishandled.
We have found that when a pen is put into flux and sows are taken out to go to farrowing while new sows are introduced, the pen should remain in flux until the "roll over" is complete. If a pen is allowed to stratify by remaining in a static position for more than 2 -3 days, social groups will begin to develop amongst the new entries and when more animals are brought in, disruptions occur within the social order and cause undue stress.
Likewise, undue stress can also occur in the first hour or two after re-entry as the sows try to find a place to fit in. During the first hour or two after re-entry, a person must remain with the girls to sort out any issues that may arise.
One of the other key elements for a successful introduction to a pen is to make sure every new animal is reminded where the feed is and how the feed system works. Our recommendation is that a new group of sows brought to the pen be taken to the entrance of the feed station and allowed to enter (and eat if desired) before going into the general population.
So what is this process? We've broken it down into eight steps you can take.
- Plan to introduce new entries in hour(s) 16 -21 of a 24-hour feed cycle.
- Group sizing should be at least 8 sows but no more than 15 girls as managing more than that at once can lead to shortcuts being taken.
- It is possible to introduce two separate groups into a pen in one day if the total doesn't exceed the holding capacity of the separation when it is time to go too farrowing.
- Feed the girls in the breeding stall before moving to the pen.
- Upon moving to the pen, allow the girls to settle down for about 10 minutes in the separation area as they will have gotten a bit excited on the move.
- When entering the pen, you can either take the shortest route to the feed station entrance and hold the girls in the general area until they go into the feed station, or some barns do walk the length of the pen with the girls to get them to the feed station entrance. This is somewhat driven by layouts as well as genetic variations. The more docile your girls, the more likely that walking the length of the pen will work. If your girls tend to be a bit more aggressive, it is recommended that they be taken by the shortest route to the ESF entrance before meeting their neighbors.
- As the sows pass through the feeders and exit into the general population, someone should be on hand to sort out the competition and fighting for the time it takes for the new entry girls to find a place to lay down. Timing on this will depend largely on the size of the group that is brought to the pen.
- If any fighting does occur, it tends to happen between animals that are either new entries or day-old entries. When everything is flowing as scheduled, a vast majority of sows will have become a well-adjusted part of the pen by day 3. Therefore, it is important to schedule the re-entry as soon as the heat is over to allow adjustment prior to implantation.
So now that we've given you more to do, what sort of results should you expect? Well we gonna hand it over to Keith Waldner to answer that.
"Before the changes, our farrowing rate ranged anywhere from 65% to 90%; very inconsistent. After implementing Tim's suggestions and some tweaking, our conception rates jumped 92-96%!" exclaims Keith.
There is a method to our madness. There is so much more to raising pigs than your barn's cost or the newness of your equipment and technology. All these things are great and help us be successful producers, but we need to continue to answer and ask the "why" question at the end of the day. When we do we are often met with new ideas, fresh concepts and strategies that not only help our bottom line but keep our pigs happy and healthy producers.