Starting Your Herd

Your local climate, how you intend to farm your pigs and what you aim to produce will all influence what breed or breeds you will need to use to produce a strong foundation for your herd.

Buying quality pigs for your start up herd from a reputable breeder is a must. While this might seem expensive initially, in the long run it will save you a lot of money and have you producing quality pigs a lot sooner.

It is important to have a visage of what you intend to produce. If you want to produce fast growing, lean pigs for butchers or the commercial market, then you will need to select one of the more modern breeds such as Large white, Duroc or Landrace.

If you just want something to look nice in the paddock, that will provide meat for you and your family then an older heritage breed might suit better. A good breeding system for outdoor pork production is to use a heritage breed sow, such as a Tamworth, Large Black, Saddleback or Berkshire and cross them with a fast growing modern breed such as a Large White, Duroc or Landrace. This will produce piglets that are much faster growing, with a lot less fat than you would get with a pure heritage breed.

For more specific information on the different breeds, refer to our ''Breeds'' section.

Pig Reproduction

To maintain an effective breeding herd, you must first understand the pig breeding cycle.

Gilts will first come onto heat around 5 - 6 months of age (90 - 120kg) range for commercial breeds and around 6 - 8 months of age for older heritage breeds. Once a gilt has had her first heat, she will return to heat every 21 days until she is bred and is pregnant.

Boars are capable of breeding at around the same age, although careful management is needed and they should not be used regularly until they are at least 8 months old.

Once a gilt has had her first litter and weaned it she is then called a sow. After removing the piglets from her at weaning, which we do between 6 and 8 weeks old, the sow will come back onto heat between 3 and 7 days later.

There is much more to successful breeding management than this, which will be discussed In detail later but this is the basic pig breeding cycle.

Heat detection in sows and gilts

Detecting when your gilts/sows are coming onto heat, and when they are actually on heat is a very important part of managing your breeding herd. You should know when each sow is due to return to heat, and when each has been bred.

The first signs of heat in a gilt are restlessness, followed by an increased interest in any nearby boars. This is then followed by mounting behaviour, which could be other gilts mounting them or them mounting other gilts as well as vocalisation and lack of interest in food.

24 - 48 hours before the onset of true 'standing' heat, the vulva of the gilt will become very red and swollen. To the untrained eye this may not be immediately obvious, depending upon the gilt, but with time it will become immediately recognisable. There is usually some discharge of clear or milky white fluid.

Once the swelling has subsided, the gilt will be in standing heat, which means she will be ready to accept a boar. If you press on her back she will assume the characteristic stance with pricked ears, slightly arched back and will stand firm to pressure. Not all gilts will stand unless in the presence of a boar.

Standing heat in a gilt, especially for their first heat cycle will generally only last between 12 and 24 hours. For this reason, it is best not to breed a gilt until she is at her 2nd or 3rd cycle. It is good practice to note the date of when she is in standing heat so you can plan the introduction of a boar or A.I

Signs of heat in a sow is much the same, although the swelling and redness of the vulva prior to standing heat will not be as pronounced, and she will generally be more inclined to seek out a boar herself. A sow will also stay in heat much longer, usually between 48 and 72 hours.
Mounting behaviour in gilts. Note the swollen and red vulva on the gilt on top
Gilt before onset of oestrus
Gilt 12 hours before standing heat
Gilt in standing heat. The vulva has subsided noticeably since the day before, but is still swollen
Gilt in standing heat. Take notice of the pricked ears and slightly arched back
Mating pen with 2 compartments
Young boar mating a gilt. He is showing good mounting and joining, and the gilt is standing well. Not the pricked ears on the gilt

Boar Management

Having good boar management is essential to the success and productivity of your breeding herd. Having the best boar is of no use unless he is managed properly.

Starting out when they are around 6-7 months old, they should be introduced to a small number of gilts, we'll say for this example 5 or 6. Once he has been running with the gilts, assuming they are of breeding age it will not be long before they are on heat. At this time it is a good idea to separate him into a smaller, adjoining paddock or set of yards.

Once the gilts all cycle, note the date and be ready to move the gilts to him once they cycle again. When a boar first begins working, it is important that he is not overworked or learns bad habits, such as mounting sows/gilts the wrong way, excessively aggressive behaviour or reluctance to work.

Gilts should be introduced into the mating pen in a separate part to the boar, but so they are able to see, hear and smell him. The ones that are on standing heat will stand for him, making it easy to identify which ones are on heat and ready for mating, or alternatively making A.I a lot easier, but more on that later.

Once a suitable gilt is identified, she should be introduced to the boar. You should be present with a stock board and paddle to be able to move and/or separate the boar if necessary.
He will mount and mate the gilt, which should take around 5 - 10 minutes. Any less and the mating should be considered doubtful.

Introducing the boar to one gilt at a time like this ensures good mating behaviour, and is a good way to make sure which gilts are mated, and that they are mated properly. For every day that they are standing, they should be mated. A young boar should be used for no more than 2 mating's a day, for 2-3 days in a row. After this he should be allowed to recover for at least 5 days.

Once he is 10 - 12 months old, a boar can be used more often and if he is in a paddock with only around 5 gilts/sows he can be allowed to mate naturally with them.


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