A recent Hubbard Feeds meeting focused on the three stages of gilt development — maturation, pre-breeding and breeding — highlighting the strategies and results for each.
The first phase, maturation, is the long phase of pre-pubertal growth in which nutrition care designed for a breeding animal — and not a market animal — is extremely important. Dr. Paul Ruen, a member of the Fairmont Veterinary Clinic in Fairmont, Minn. who spoke at Hubbard's meeting, said he recommends that this phase be controlled by the sow farm with a goal of acclimating the gilt to the sow herd health status. Housing and environment are also key, especially having adequate lighting and timers with the goal of 14-16 hours of light per day.
Pre-breeding, the second stage of gilt development, involves managing the gilts for puberty. This stage starts with boar exposure, typically between 160 and 175 days of age. Quality boar exposure with recorded heats will bring positive results. According to Ruen:
- Boars should be 11+ months old
- Exposure should be 1–2 minutes/gilt once a day (pen of five to 10 gilts needs 10–20 minutes)
- House boars should be kept away from the gilts so fresh exposure makes heats obvious
- Having boars in the pens with the gilts creates better contact than fenceline
- Bringing the gilts to the boars stimulates better than bringing the boars to the gilts
The final phase of gilt development, breeding, is when the gilt is eligible to mate with the boar. Housing the boar away from the gilts, making sure there is good ventilation and clean floors are all part of making the interaction a positive experience. Ruen said he recommends limited regrouping of gilts at this time and also full feeding.