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How To Improve Productivity In Gilts And Sows

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Uganda has a national herd of more than 400,000 sows. This is twice the population of sows in South Africa.
According to official data, South Africa slaughter more than 2.6 million pigs annually producing more than 182,000 metric tons of pork. The official data about Uganda’s pig sector is scant.

However, on average, less than 100,000 metric tons of pork is produced annually from more than 2.5 million pigs. The average number of piglets weaned per sow per year in South Africa is 10 while that of Uganda is below 8. The average carcass weight of pigs in South Africa is 70 kilograms while that of Uganda is 40 kilograms.

The above explains the predicaments of not only Uganda but also other East African country’s pig industry. I want us to concentrate on the sector’s production engine:- the sows!

Our sows are poorly performing because:

👉 No production plan. The majority of pig farms in Uganda have no production plans. Most activities are only guessed and results not predictable:- heat periods, gestation, farrowing, etc happen and detected by chance. This makes production optimization, culling of underperforming sows, marketing, etc very difficult.
👉 Many farms use parent stock whose performance perimeter is undefined. This makes it hard for the farmer to estimate the number of piglets expected per litter, milking abilities, sow longevity, fertility, etc.
👉 Poor health management. Vaccination of reproductive herd is understood as the injection of dewormers and multivitamins! This leaves reproductive infections that cause both poor fertility, abortions, and stillbirths a big challenge.
👉 Poor nutrition. Feeding of both gilts and sows is not specialized. There is underfeeding during lactation leading to a delayed return to heat, Insemination of underweight gilts leading to smaller litter sizes and reduced sow productive time, etc.
👉 Poor general management. Heat periods are missed, sows sleepover piglets leading to death, matching small gilts with very big boars, etc.

Let me discuss each of the above in detail in this and coming end-of-week “tips” publications.

Planning reproduction

Sows are the reproductive engine of every pig farm. Their efficiency affects general farm profitability. A successful pig farm must draw a production map ascertaining:-

1. Number of farm batches and sows contained in each. This should also specify details about, how, when they are inseminated, gestation, farrowing, lactation and re-insemination time frames.

2. Weight and age at which gilts are inseminated.

3. Boar genetics to be used and why

4. Choice of whether to use Artificial or natural insemination. Strategy on process handling.

5. A sow culling and replacement framework

Batch Insemination/Farrowing/Weaning & Finishing

This is commonly known as “batch farrowing”. Batch farrowing is a chronological framework of delivering piglets by sows on farms. It allows a farmer divides his sow population into different groups with alternating periods of reproductive stages. Batch farrowing affects every stage of production on the farm right from insemination, farrowing, weaning, growing, finishing, and marketing.

I talked about TIME and WEIGHT fixed farm operations. Some farms sell at a particular weight, the time taken isn’t important! The majority of pig farms in the world are time fixed. They sell finishers at 24 weeks. Batch farrowing is an appropriate arrangement for time-fixed farms because time-fixed farms are as well space-limited.

Batch farrowing enables producers to inseminate given groups of sows at the same time, farrow, wean and finish their offspring at the same time. This enables efficient use of space available in the farrowing unit, Dry sow unit, weaner unit, and finishing units if all these structures are available on the farm. For a farmer with a separate farrowing unit whose space doesn’t match the total number of sows owned. Batch farrowing is is the ideal solution to avoid running out of space or even overstocking the unit.

In some instances, farmers may choose to work together to meet either an internal or export pork market demand. The sows can be batched and reproduction/growth stages divided among themselves. For-examples if two farmers are involved, one farmer may decide to concentrate on farrowing meaning he takes care of the sows from farrowing to weaning. He must be having enough space to house dry sows, gestating sows, farrowing sows, and lactating sows.

The second farmer picks the weaners from the first farmer and grows them to finishing for the market. There must be enough space with both farmers to ensure all weaners are taken to avoid crushing with another batch of weaners. The market must also be readily available to avoid the grower/finisher herds from crushing.

Batch farrowing directly simplifies tasks on farms producing stock for fattening for either use on own farm or resale.

The most accurate batching system is based on a 20 weeks farrowing interval. This is only true when a sow takes 20 weeks or 140 days from the last to the next weaning. This means weaning should as earlier as 21 days (3 weeks) with 7 days for cleaning,  disinfecting, and resting the farrowing unit on large farms with high disease susceptibility or strictly 28 days (4 weeks) for small farms. Early weaning is now possible after the introduction of Barbistar safe:- a high quality creep feed from Nuscience.

The 20 weeks farrowing interval enables five butches of piglets every month. This also enables the sale of pigs for slaughter monthly throughout the year starting from when the first batch of finishers is ready for market. The direct or indirect increase of the farrowing interval length leads to a decrease in a number of batches.

The 20 weeks farrowing interval is based on the following time frame:
👉 Insemination after weaning = 5 days
👉 Gestation = 114 days
👉 Lactation = 21 days
👉 Total number of days = 140
👉 Total number of weeks = 140/7 = 20

For example; a farm with 50 sows and 10 farrowing units.

The sows will be batched into five batches of 10 pigs. These should be of different age groups preferably 4 weeks older from each other. The age groups can be:  32, 28, 24, 20 and 16 weeks old pigs. If the older batch 32 weeks was inseminated on 1st January 2021, batches from 28 weeks will be inseminated through 1st Feb, 1st March, 1st April, and 1st May respectively.

Farrowing commences in April for the batch inseminated in January and runs through May for the Feb batch, June for the March batch, July for the April batch and August for the May batch.

Basing on the information above, the production cycles repeat at the end of August for the batch that farrowed in April and inseminated again in early May after weaning.

Therefore, the farm receives piglets, manages growers, and manages gestating mothers and sale finishers every month. This means all paddocks are occupied every month therefore the farm is space limited to the number of piglets the sows deliver monthly.

Written by Christopher Mulindwa, an animal scientist and founder of Pig Production and Marketing Uganda Limited

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