Building your program starts with the gilt foundation. Finding that perfect gilt to begin your business is the most fun/stressfull time of all. Figuring out what breed to go with, where to get them, how to breed them, list goes on and on. Below I will tell you some of the basics on how to find that gilt for your program and some strategies you can use to make some money in the business for the small scale.

Selection - Gilts

When selecting your gilts, there are 4 physical criteria to judge; Underline/Vulva, Size/Fitness, Structure, and Litter Size/Weight for the ideal candidate. In addition to these characteristics, a good genetic pedigree is preferred (you can find these on Registration papers in the bottom right corner).

  • Underline and Vulva: Underline and vulva are indicators of reproductive soundness. An underline should have atleast 12 well-spaced functional nipples. The vulva should be normal size and shape, and not tipped up.
  • Size and Fitness: Size and fitness are indicators of growth and appetite. Gilts that eat more, grow faster, and tend to be fatter. Both are valuable heritable traits.
  • Structure: Front legs should have a long stride and slope to the shoulder. Front toes should point neither in nor out, but straight ahead. Toes should be about the same size, indicating even wear and correctness. Rear legs should be slightly sloping, and neither cow hocked or very straight. All feet should have some slope and flex in the pasterns. A gilt should have a wide ribcage, large body cavity, and moderately heavy bone. Legs should be set wide apart. Adequate muscling and fatness should be evident. Gilts with some fatness have been shown to last longer in the herd and breed back more quickly.
  • Litter Size and Weight: Litter size and weight are very valuable traits, even though they are lowly heritable. Try to select gilts from large litters (many pigs and heavy pigs) if records are available.

Selection - Boars

When selecting your boars you need to use physical characteristics such as depth of rib, levelness of top, muscle mass, and sound bone structure. However the most important traits in selecting boars comes from their Expected Progeny Differences (EPD's), this is the best measure for boar selection:

  • What are EPD's? A: The measurement of the genetic worth of a boar vs. the other boars of the same breed.
  • What information is used to calculate EPD's? A:
    • Individual animals own records.
    • Records from ancestors in the individual animal's pedigree.
    • All recorded information from collateral relatives (i.e. littermates, half-sibs, etc.)
    • Records of any offspring from the individual animal being evaluated.
  • How do I use EPD's? A: EXAMPLE - Assume Boar A has a Days to 230 EPD of +5 days and Boar B has a Days to 230 EPD of 4 days. If these boars were bred to an identical set of sows (in terms of genetics, environment, and management), you would expect a difference of 9 days in the average number of days to 230 pounds for their progeny. Therefore, if growth rate is a major priority in selecting one of these boars to breed to a set of sows, Boar B would be the best choice.


Recommendations for Seedstock Producers

Seedstock producers, whose primary objective is to supply seedstock for commercial producers, have several options available depending on their consumers' demand. They can supply boars that are reasonably balanced (typically not excelling in any trait), or they can provide boars that excel in certain specific traits (i.e., maternal traits or terminal traits). Regardless of the approach, EPDs can be used to help achieve these objectives. For example, if the production of genetically balanced boars is desired, then sires with a good balance of all EPDs should be mated to sows with a good balance of all EPDs. The offspring from such a mating would also be expected to have a good balance of all EPDs. If, on the other hand, you want to provide boars to fit a specific purpose, then mate boars and sows with desirable EPDs for the trait of concern (i.e., mate boars and sows with high 21-Day Litter Weight EPDs). You would expect the offspring from specific matings to be very close to the average of the parents for all traits.

Recommendations for Commercial Producers

Commercial producers should decide which breed or line of boar is going to best suit their production and long- term goals, and EPDs within that breed or line should be used to compare boars for the traits of concern. For example, if production of replacement gilts is a major emphasis, a breed or line excelling in maternal traits should be used. If growth rate is a major concern, a breed or line excelling in growth should be used.

Once a breed or line has been chosen, the selection process can be fine-tuned using EPDs. For example, if replacement gilt production is the goal, Number Born Alive and 21-Day Litter Weight EPDs will be of importance. If strictly market hog production is the objective, Days to 230 and 10th Rib Backfat EPDs will be the primary concern.

It is very important not to take selection decisions lightly. When you are considering a breeding plan within your herd, it is imperative to have your long-term goals in mind and make selections toward those goals. Understanding and using EPDs can be an extremely valuable tool in this process.