October is one of my favorite months. The leaves are changing color, the temperatures are dropping and the air is fresh and crisp first thing in the morning. It’s also the time of the year that I get to breed the pigs, and start the process of fair pigs once again.
Some may call it odd, but animal reproduction and genetics has always fascinated me. Each year, I sit down before breeding season and look at my females, and then look for a male that will be compatible.
I look for a boar that is going to help me produce better show animals each and every year. The trends in pigs can change very quickly, and if you don’t keep up, your pigs will not compete as well at fair.
The breeding process starts more than a month before I actually breed the pigs. They require pre-breeding vaccinations, which helps the sows to stay healthy, and boosts the immunities they pass through colostrum. The next step is to put the sows on a progesterone supplement for 14 days, which mimics what is called the luteal phase of the estrus cycle. It prevents them from coming back into heat, and allows me to synchronize all of the sows together.
This is important for breeding, because pigs are bred with fresh, not frozen semen. This is done because the freezing process can kill sperm cells, and with pigs you have large litters, not singles, like in cattle.
It also allows me to order the semen very close to when I know the sows will be in heat, which helps them have the best conception they can have. The other advantage is that all of the sows will be bred around the same time, which means they will farrow at the same time and all the babies are about the same age at fair.
This year I decided to cut back to just four sows, and the four that I think will help me to move my program forward. The first sow that I bred was my purebred Hampshire named Lindsay.
I have been very impressed with the pigs she has produced so far, and kept with breeding her back to a purebred Hampshire boar. She has been a pretty easy breeder for me, and this year was no exception.
The second sow I decided to breed is a daughter out of Shanae, the sow that I lost this summer. She is considered an Exotic, which is a special crossbred breed that produces colorful, powerful market animals. The last litter she had she farrowed with little difficulty, so I look forward to another easy litter out of Lady.
My other two sows that I bred were Yorkshire sows, which is an all white breed. Kate I bred for purebred Yorkshire piglets, and the Pixie I bred to a white Exotic. Her piglets should also be white, but I may have a few bluebutts, since the boar still carries the colored gene.
I’ve never bred or farrowed Yorkshires before, so this will be a new experience for me. They are a maternal breed, however, and should farrow and nurse the piglets better than the darker breeds.
Pigs are very easy to learn to breed, and this is why the majority of pigs, both show and commercial, are bred using artificial insemination. I’ve never had a litter from a live breeding, and I’ve been raising pigs for seven years now.
Based on their breeding dates, the sows will be due at the end of January, which is right when I want them to be due. This puts the piglets at six to seven months of age at fair, where they should weigh between 250-270 pounds. This seems to be the ideal weight for shows right now.
The pigs will be checked 19-21 days after breeding for pregnancy using a belly ultrasound scan. This device does not show a picture, but determines if there is fluid in the uterus, which indicates pregnancy. Hopefully all of the sows will take on the first breeding.
January will be a busy month for me, as I have seven Boer goats that are due to kid at the very beginning of the month. Then National Western Stock Show will take place, and at the end of that the pigs will be due.
I also have dairy goats that I will be breeding this month. I have two crossbred Alpine does that I will breed back to an Alpine buck, and one LaMancha doe who will be bred to a LaMancha buck. All three does should be due at the beginning of March, which puts the kids at almost two months old at the first show, held at the end of April.
Many of the does and their kids will then be shown throughout the summer, and then the process will start all over again.
I do have two does that were bred for fall kids, and the first one kidded on October 4. This Nubian doe, named Isis, had a single kid, which is what I thought she would have. The kid was a doe, and looks almost exactly like her mother. I have not named her yet.
She is an exciting kid for me, because she is the first grand kid born in my herd. Her mother is the daughter of one of my very first does named Lilly.
Lilly is the other doe that is due to kid, and she is the doe that started my love for dairy goats. If it was not for this doe, I likely would have never developed my passion for the dairy goat industry.
Last time she kidded, which was a year and a half ago, she had triplets. I am guessing she will either have the same or twins this year. I just have to wait and see, and should have more Nubian babies shortly.
Each time new babies are born, I marvel at the process that brought them into the world, and how the mothers know exactly what to do, even if it is their first time.
Babies, whether they are human or animal, are truly a miracle. ❖