The backbone of any successful breeding operation is the animals used in it. This means having and using well-bred stock that is correct in conformation and other desirable traits. While conformation is important in order for a gilt or sow to be physically able to handle pregnancy, good conformation is also an important trait that is passed down to offspring, some of which may become future breeders which will in turn pass breeding down to newer generations as well. When it comes to selecting a breeding gilt with desirable traits for breeding, some things to consider are:
1. The breeding success of her mother. If a gilt comes from a sow who has been a successful mother, chances are good that the gilt will be successful as well. While there are exceptions, it is good to consider breeding animals that come from proven stock. Sows with high survival rates amongst their litters and who exhibit good mothering are the sows from which you should pick future breeders.
Photo: Bona Vista Farm
2. The number of teats a gilt has is key. Since litters can be large, it is necessary that a gilt has enough teats to feed all of her young. It is possible to remove piglets and place them with another mother, but if you do not have another mother available, it is essential that the original mother can rear those young, hence needing 12 teats that are not inverted or shaped in any other way that might inhibit nursing.
3. As far as conformation goes, body structure and angles should be correct. Legs should be strong and hams well developed. Feet also need to be tough and sound.
Photo: Conover Pigs
Although it is normal to begin breeding gilt selection at a young age, it is wise to reassess gilts as they grow. While around 8 months of age is a good time for their first breeding, re-evaluating gilts around 6 months of age before making a final decision as to whether or not she should have a career as a breeder is beneficial should changes take place during growth that might affect suitability. When it comes to selecting a breeding boar, many of the same traits mentioned above should be present, such as 12 teats and good bodily conformation along with normally developed sex organs. A boar is going to be contributing to the quality of offspring produced, so be sure to select and good, well-rounded boar for breeding. By combining the best boars with the best gilts and sows, you will ensure the best possible offspring hit the ground on your farm, thereby giving your breeding program a bright future.