Reducing mortality for a robust industry
Whenever a producer group meets, much of the discussion today is about the difficulty of managing the modern sow and the high mortality of sows. This is at a time when in some parts of the world there is increased pressure on larger systems (better perceived well-being), pressure to reduce the use of antibiotics and zinc, and a growing shortage of well-trained personnel, or even personnel to work on farms.
It’s such a problem in the EU that legislation is being proposed that would require genetics companies to select live born reduced (suggested between 12 and 14 piglets). If this legislation were to be introduced, it would have a significant impact on production and the cost of production. The only possible way to prevent this type of legislation is to put our house in order. We cannot defend sow mortality in young adolescents and piglet mortality in adolescents reared in intensive systems.
We already know that the mortality figures are going to get worse in the larger systems that we are supposed to use in the EU. We also know that the situation of the lack of people to work on pig farms will only get worse, not better.
Genesus’ core belief is an easy to manage, very hardy gilt and sow that is consistently highly competitive in terms of number of piglets produced, cost of production and profit. Current estimates are a cost of over $1,000 for a dead sow (cost of disposal, replacement and lost production) (https://www.swineweb.com/measuring-the-direct-and-indirect -costs-of-sow -mortality). Halving mortality from 12% to 6% would save over $60,000 per 1,000 sows. This equates to $120 per gilt purchased – more than the genetic premium on a gilt for most producers. Producers always want to negotiate the genetic margin on a gilt, maybe it should be related to the expected % mortality. Some genetics companies would get no genetic bonus on the gilts today!
Our customers consistently report, on the same farm, 50% lower sow mortality with Genesus F1 compared to competitors.
The robustness of the Genesus sow does not only come from the genetic/genomic selection program. Much of the advantage comes from the Genesus philosophy that nuclear farms are run very similarly to commercial farms. Commercial management techniques have been used for years at Genesus primary gene pool farms in Canada.
We know that the Genesus gilt can be reared at 135 kg and starts to become less productive when raised above 165 kg (too fat). The earlier an F1 goes into production, we measure and select for an early age at first farrowing, the more profitable it will be over its lifetime. Additionally, maximizing genetic progress requires reducing the generation interval, the younger the gilt at first birth, the faster the genetic progress. Growing gilts ad-lib until first mating is the best way to minimize age at first farrowing, so that’s what we do. Nucleus gilts are now bred from 190 days of age. For commercial production, a gilt that can simply be fed ad libitum is easier to manage than having to restrict intake individually.
The selectors have the final choice.
Of course, all core farm pigs are tested (phenotyped and most genotyped) and indexed. However, the final selection is made by our selectors and is based on physical attributes, particularly leg and foot quality. It makes no sense to select the highest index animals that will only survive 1 litter due to poor feet, legs or structure.
No farrowing supervision.
We need sows that will farrow unassisted and without the need for practices like split sucking, which we know will save piglets. We have made a conscious decision on our primary genetic nucleus farms not to supervise parturition. This of course means that we have additional losses (stillborn babies and early piglet mortality), which represents a cost for our company. We believe this management philosophy for ease of farrowing is a big contributor to the robustness, ease of management and composure of the Genesus sow.
Another management decision on primary genetic nucleus farms is not to house piglets (unless the sows are sick or die). If a sow or gilt gives birth to 24 piglets, they will be left on the sow. In this way, our management philosophy helps us measure the ability of the sow to raise piglets. Again, this is a cost to the Genesus business, but for commercial farms using the Genesus F1 sow, the need for foster care is greatly reduced, skilled labor and time consuming. This also means that it is not necessary to have 10-20% empty farrowing crates for the foster sows. It never made economic sense!
Lactating gilts and sows that can be fed at will.
Genesus selected for food intake in both paternal and maternal lines. This means that today a Genesus F1 sow can be expected to voluntarily eat an average of over 7.5 kg of feed per day over a 21 day lactation. Feeding lactating sows by hand or with volume feeders is time consuming and a skill that very few people possess. High feed intake means high milk production. No requirement for expensive computerized milk systems which are now recommended by some genetic companies as essential. It also means higher weaning weights at the same age as our competitors. With the elimination of antibiotics and zinc from piglet feed, this has become a very important factor.
Low backfat loss during lactation.
High feed intake in lactation means that the Genesus sow only loses an average of 2mm of back fat during lactation. Sows return to heat quickly and easily after weaning, which means less time with extra stimulation or even skipping heats on ultra-thin sows. Uniform condition means less time to assess body condition and adjust feeders. Even the condition makes feeding in group gestation pens much simpler.
From selecting a core gilt to raising her F1 granddaughter takes at least 2 years, which means changes to core farms today affect commercial herds in 2-5 years, a very slow process! It will take many years for genetic companies with difficult to manage and fragile sows to have a significant effect on commercial breeding results. I am very afraid to slow down to prevent the introduction of new laws.
To avoid additional legislation and reduce costs, act now. Call your local Genesus representative to discuss the benefits of a tough, easy-to-manage sow.
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