Maximizing sow herd productivity is a very complex issue. Efficiency of the sow herd depends on genetics, nutrition, management, health, age of weaning, and most of all - people. All areas must be effectively accomplished to achieve consistent high productivity. Here are some of the components involved in top sow productivity.

Each farm must first have a clear definition of goals. Maximum production biologically may not equate to optimum (maximum) profitability.

Adequate and precise records for biological production and economic results are absolutely vital when changing anything in the production unit.

Genetics Each producer must have a complete understanding about the genetics being used. The genetic supplier must be able to provide the animals that meet the needs of the producer. If the unit has outside facilities, can the sow lines live and reproduce under those conditions?

The genetic supplier must also be able to provide information about the husbandry, health, nutrition, and selection process so the producer can decide if the supplier will continue to improve the various performance traits needed to be successful in production.

The genetic supplier must also be able to meet the needs of the producer with the number of animals at a time schedule (or semen if AI is used) with a communication system to maintain information flow concerning source farm health, production and performance.

Replacements What do we do with the herd additions after arrival? While much has been written about isolation and acclimatization, these still are often done poorly or not at all. Each producer should be working with a knowledgeable swine veterinarian to set up the appropriate procedures to introduce new animals (boars and gilts) into the herd with minimal effect on production and health. In many cases, serologic tracking may be necessary to verify that these new animals have been exposed and seroconverted to the known pathogens that exist on the farm.

Producers should consult with their veterinarian to determine the appropriate procedures that may include vaccinations, feed and/or water medications, parasite control programs, and use of animals or material from the main herd.

Because of the high cost of replacement animals and its effect on overall cost of production, it is very important to have a system in place to procure a compatible source of animals and then to provide procedures that allow them to maximize the lifetime productivity.

Nutrition and housing affect sow productivity. Body condition scoring done on a regular basis can help producers maintain consistent and proper body condition. Specific feeding programs based on genetics of the animal and the stage of the reproductive cycle help to attain high productivity.

Sows housed in outdoor facilities in groups usually require more energy and other nutrients just for maintenance, especially in cold weather.

Breeding Sows High herd productivity only occurs if sows get pregnant, stay pregnant and farrow healthy pigs. Thus, breeding sows is a very important component. More importantly, sows only get pregnant if the producer can routinely determine when sows are in heat and get semen into that sow at the right time.

Producers using boars must allow direct contact of the boar with the sows. Mating only occurs if the sow stands to be serviced. Herds using 100% artificial insemination to breed sows require much more precision to accomplish similar pregnancy (farrowing) rates.

After breeding, sows should not be moved, mixed or stressed for a period of time to prevent loss of early pregnancies.

Regular heat detection should detect sows returning to heat. Therefore, every farm should implement a system to determine every sow's status regularly. Those procedures include boar exposure, pregnancy checking by machine, and visual evaluation.

Proper nutrition and feeding schedules should be followed at each stage of pregnancy. The type of housing provided for the sows will dictate the methods needed or used to keep track of sow reproductive status and the follow-up procedures required.

Farrowing Care Herds achieving high pigs per sow per year generally have a well-trained farrowing house staff. This level of care begins the instant a sow arrives in the farrowing area. The demeanor of staff can affect the farrowing process, which frequently determines how sows will effectively lactate and consume feed.

After farrowing, the staff must properly foster and size pigs to optimize litter numbers to each sow. Pig processing, treatments, environmental control, cleaning practices and feeding of sows are very important. One inconsistent process or unsanitary procedure can reduce the number or size of pigs weaned.

Herd health issues can affect overall sow productivity. Each farm should have a medical plan that has been uniquely designed by the attending veterinarian. Many diseases affect a herds' productivity. Be sure that every farm has a medical plan.