Even as a young boy, Terry Hauder, part owner and manager of the Hauder-Martin PC breed-to-wean facilities near Milford, NE, had a passion for pigs. “When we came home from vacation, the first thing I would do is run out to check the pigs in the barns,” he remembers.

Following college, he returned to the home farm and began building his sow herd. After a few years of managing sows on dirt lots, he decided to remodel a finishing barn, adding gestation stalls. “I figured if it works well, I would expand the sow herd,” he explains.

It worked well. So well, in fact, that the operation has grown to 1,200 sows and his passion for pigs remains intact. Firing that passion is a personal challenge to reduce sow numbers without sacrificing the number of pigs needed to fill the finishing barns owned with brother-in-law Eric Martin.

Hauder got real serious about improving the efficiency of his sow herd in 2007. Seeing a need for more sophisticated production records, he signed on with Swine Management Services (SMS), LLC of Fremont, NE, where his herd is benchmarked against a database of 757 farms representing over 1.3 million sows.

In July 2007, farrowing rate was a solid 85.8% and pigs weaned/mated female/year (PW/MF/Y) stood at a very respectable 25.38 (See Table 1, page 10, five-year averages of key performance indicators).

“It’s important to know where you’re at and where you want to go,” Hauder relates. “I like that there are a lot of females in the database so I can see where I rank, not just for pigs weaned, but also for total pigs born, stillborn rates, death loss — the whole breakdown. When you have hard numbers to compare yourself with what other people are doing in the industry, you can feel good about what you are doing as well as see areas where you can improve. It’s been very interesting working with Ron (Ketchem) and SMS.”

Feeding Newly Weaned Sows

The performance reports helped Hauder zero in on wean-to-first service interval, which was averaging 8.6 days. Drawing on experiences from other herds, Ketchem recommended that Hauder focus on feeding sows during lactation and, equally important, during the days between weaning and rebreeding.

Hauder has been feeding sows in gestation stalls since 2000. Typically, newly weaned sows are loaded in consecutive stalls, taking care to place all Parity 1 females together in a sort of subgroup in the row. Feed drops are set for 3-4 lb. of feed/day. But therein lies a problem.

Sows in farrowing rooms are fed three times daily — 7 a.m., 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. — with the last feeding a little heavier to ensure sows have feed until the next morning. “In farrowing, they were used to eating whenever they want, but in the gestation barn they had a short time to eat before the troughs were filled with water. A lot of them didn’t eat it up in time, or maybe they just didn’t feel like eating,” he explains.

To remedy that, Hauder now moves newly weaned sows to an area where stalls are equipped with nipple waterers, and sows are fed twice a day.

“Before, it would typically take 4-5 days to get them to full feed. Now, within 24 hours, they are getting about all they’ll eat — averaging 13-15 lb./day. Getting more feed in them has shortened our days to estrus,” he notes.

Weekly weaning takes place on Wednesday only. A teaser boar is allowed to roam the aisles of the new arrivals for 2-6 hours. “It gets them stimulated and thinking about breeding back,” Hauder explains. Sows are checked for heat every day after weaning. Typically, the first sows begin showing standing heat on Sunday.

Sows in heat are identified with a mark above their tail. Parity 2 and higher sows are skipped the first day they show heat and are inseminated the next day, and for each day after. Most sows are inseminated twice, some a third time.

Parity 1 sows are the exception. Hauder used to skip those showing heat on Sunday, breeding them on Monday, but found that some would be out of heat by Tuesday, so they were only inseminated once.

Single matings are running at 8-9%, Ketchem confirms, and he would like to see it lower. “You give up 6% farrowing rate, on average, with single matings vs. double matings,” he explains.

Still, Hauder’s single-mated sows have a farrowing rate of 87%, while those mated a third time have a 91% farrowing rate. The whole herd average farrowing rate is currently at 90.3%.

Records confirm Hauder has shaved 2.42 days off wean-to-estrus interval, and the percentage of sows bred by seven days postweaning has improved since 2007 from 71.8% to 89.7%.

Genetic Shift

Total born per litter has grown to average 15.11 pigs, nearly two pigs more within a five-year time span. That places Hauder at 97% (percentile) in the SMS benchmark ranking that averages 13.16 pigs.

“That means only 3% of farms in the benchmark database had more total pigs than he did,” Ketchem notes. “It tells a nice story, over time. A few changes — additions to management and a genetic change — have gotten him to 15.11 pigs, total born, 13.39 pigs born live.”

Hauder has used Danbred genetics exclusively since 1998, but in 2009,
he switched from the Line 230 females to Line 241 females, which are Danish Yorkshire/Danish Landrace F-1 females.

Pigs weaned per litter climbed past 12 pigs per litter in 2011, pushing PW/MF/Y to 29.19 in the late-June summary.

“He has done a good job of keeping preweaning death loss below 10%, but stillborns have not come down,” Ketchem points out. “If he wants to get to 31 PW/MF/Y, there’s a pig sitting there in the stillborn column.”

Some farms have gone to 24/7 farrowing attendants to reduce stillborns, but Hauder’s not ready for that commitment. Instead, he focuses on giving live-born pigs every possible chance of survival.

Balancing Litters

Once a day, Hauder goes through the farrowing room, making a list of sows, the number of pigs each has and, from her sow card, the number of pigs each sow weaned in her previous parity.

“On the first, second and third parity sows, I try to bump them one more pig than they weaned last time. So, if she weaned 12 last time, I’ll put 13, maybe 14, pigs on her,” he explains. Parity 4 and higher sows are left with the same number of pigs as they weaned in their previous parity.

“If you have 10-11 big pigs and a couple of small ones in a litter, the small ones won’t be around in a couple of days. I sort and size them, putting small pigs with small ones so they have a fighting chance. With pigs, it’s survival of the fittest. I’ve never seen a pig back up and say, ‘I’ve had quite a bit, you might as well go ahead and finish off,’” he says, smiling, but making the point.

“We try to leave them on their mother for 8-12 hours before sorting and sizing them,” he adds. “If I am short of pigs, I go back to litters farrowed 2-3 days ago, but no more than that, and move fallback pigs to a new litter to help them get started,” he relates.

Fallback pigs are allowed just one move. They are identified by notching an ear. This not only helps him keep track of fallout pigs in the farrowing room, it also allows him to keep an eye on them as they move through the nursery and grow-finish barns.

“I don’t go in later and mix pigs around or move pigs that are 5-6 days old. It’s just something that I figured out over the years. It works for me,” he explains.

“Most of those rescued pigs get going on a new sow,” he says. “Another nice thing for those pigs is they get an extra week or so in the finishing barn, giving them more time to reach the maximum finishing weight so they become full-value pigs.”

Hauder’s records show he has gained nearly 2 PW/MF/Y since 2007, which has allowed him to reduce the size of the sow herd.

His goal is to wean 620 pigs/week. “That’s 52 sows weaning 12 pigs/litter, or 624 pigs/week,” he says. “Compared to farrowing 57 sows/week, five fewer sows per week times 20 weeks is 100 sows I don’t have to carry or feed. I can reduce my sow herd from 1,200 to 1,100 and still get the number of pigs I want.” Figuring 2,400 lb. of feed/sow/year costing 14 cents/lb., that’s a $336/sow savings or $33,600 in savings on 100 fewer sows.

“Even if I can take stillborns down by a half a pig per litter, that’s one more pig/sow/year, and that will put me over 30 PW/MF/Y. If I can reduce stillborns by 0.5 pigs/litter from 1.3, that’s a reduction of 0.8 x 2.4 litters/sow/year, or nearly two more PW/MF/Y.”

Next Step — Nurse Sows

An added benefit of reducing sow numbers is it frees up some farrowing crates and allows Hauder to utilize some nurse sows.

As litter size increases, nurse sows become an integral part of the pig-saving philosophy. He cites an example from a 1,200-sow Danish herd that had a 12.1 weaned pig/litter average, but with nurse sows was able to pull that figure up to 13.5 pigs/litter. “They were using 6-8 nurse sows every week,” he explains. “You have to have extra crates to do that.”

Ketchem says as litter sizes increase, there is a growing trend to use more nurse sows. “At the top end of our database, we are seeing up to 10-12% nurse sows,” he notes.

Passion Remains

Hauder likes everything about raising pigs. “I enjoy it all, but I really enjoy the farrowing end of it — seeing that new litters of pigs, getting them started. I feel that if you get them started right, they will finish right,” he explains. “That’s why I put so much emphasis on the way I sort them and place them on the sow. I feel if you get the right pigs on the right sow, and the right number on the right sow, and if you pay attention to details and stay on top of it, it’s going to turn out right — especially if you have a passion for it.”

“I’m probably the guy who if I made next to nothing, I would probably still raise pigs because I really enjoy it,” he adds.