Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Replacement gilts / marking pigs / breeding / handling

 We sorted through 800 piglets to find the 15 that will be our replacement gilts; and when I say sorted, I mean we got down and counted nipples and inspected every inch of those 800 piglets.

 This little group of pigs has been getting very special treatment.   A gilt is a virgin pig; when she has a litter, she is then considered a sow.  We actually sorted out and selected 17, but 2 of those didn't make the cut this time, and so we're ear tagging 15 of them.  Andrea is carefully leaning over to tag the left ear.    We tag the left ear as a standard.  If the tag falls out there's a hole in the left ear, and we check that before we take pigs to market as a fail-safe.  We raise the breeders with the other pigs and separate at market time. 
 We tag the pigs so that we can track their progress, health and litter characteristics.  If you're going to be breeding, you want to be able to identify each animal, and since we've got 5 people who work with these pigs, we need to be able to say "hey, #57 looks like she's about due; can you look at her?"

We use the hog panels you see in these pictures pretty much everywhere.  They're the duct tape of hog operations.  In this case the pen itself is formed with hog panels, and then we've brought a spare one in to form a temporary pen inside the larger pen, so that we don't have to chase the pigs around while we're tagging them. 

When you have 200 to 400 pigs around at any given time, it's hard to remember the details of each ones history.  Records are important. 
Marking pigs can take many forms; ear notching is pretty common.  In the bigger hog farms, tattoos are used.   We don't tag the majority of the animals; just the breeders, and we don't retain very many.  15 out of 800 is about 1.8%, which is in keeping the the philosophy that you only breed the very best. 

It's pretty common on pig farms, especially on those that are raising heritage breeds, to believe that anything that comes out of a sow is breeding material.   If you're going to be serious about saving a breed, I think you should be serious about improving it, too.  And you do that by learning to evaluate a pig at various ages, and by tracking your results. 

Your desired results can vary.  For me, I want calm, good mothers who work well on pasture and wean a large percentage of their litters.  A couple of these pigs were chosen because they were particularly friendly; temperament is important to me, too. 

These guys are F1 yorkshire/hampshire cross piglets.  that means that two purebred animals were used to produce them.  I've found that they make good mothers, and I'll be crossing them with a purebred berkshire boar to produce my market piglets. 


Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Excellent advice for heritage folks...I'm seeing the Guernsey cow breed getting popular due the A2 milk issue. Not every heifer is a keeper. Hope people listen.

Joanne said...

That's why the rule of thumb is "Keep the best, eat the rest" and that goes for plant breeding as well as livestock/poultry.

It's also why I encourage people who want the heritage breeds of animals and the heirloom varieties of plants to source their meat and produce from farms growing/raising those varieties and breeds. The consumer is the "eat the rest" part of that equation.