Pork producers face public scrutiny of their operations, such as a recent series of articles on Illinois’ pig production in the Chicago Tribune. Yet, the general public often remains unaware of the steps involved in pig farming or the choices farmers face at each stage of that process. An overview of a basic pig production model reveals numerous points where farmers must make choices that influence the health, fecundity and biosecurity of the herd.
Swine farmers may choose to use natural reproduction, the classic boar meets gilt story, or artificial insemination with their herd. The new trend of single fixed-time insemination is becoming a more popular alternative to the standard practice of multiple inseminations over a three-day period.
Gestation (112-115 days)
The pregnant females, called “in-pig,” may then be housed individually or in groups. In group sow housing, the layout will be based in part upon the feeding system utilized. However, in general, group sow housing can be divided into either fully open or partial stall access.
Farrowing (3-5 weeks)
As sows near the time to give birth, most farms move the females to individual enclosures that are equipped with an area, called a creep, where piglets can avoid being crushed by the mother or other pigs.
Some farmers may then use creep feeding, or supplementation of the sow’s milk with pelleted feed. For piglets to fully benefit from creep feeding, they must have sufficient time to consume about 500 grams of feed before weaning. When pigs are weaned at approximately 25 days of age, creep feed intake approaches the limit of 500 grams of pigs, bypassing the danger of delayed soybean hypersensitivity reaction.
Piglets are usually weaned between three and five weeks of age. Weaning piglets young can reduce the time to the next litter. However, a higher growth rate and feed intake often result from increasing weaning age and by providing liquid diets and creep feeding.
Nursery/growing (6-9 weeks)
Some farms incorporate separate buildings for different pig life stages. Others divide a single building into three stages to efficiently use the space as the pigs grows from weaner to grower to finisher. Some hog barns use a single area from weaning to finishing. Dividing the piglets by age group allows greater biosecurity and efficient use of space.
Finishing (16-18 weeks)
Pigs that are fed and managed properly during the weaning transition can better reach their full potential at finishing. At finishing, a pig may weigh 250 pounds or more.
From the pig processor’s point of view, increasing carcass weight can have financial benefits because, depending on equipment, the cost of processing a heavier carcass may be no higher but would provide a greater yield of saleable meat. However, with greater maturity, there is a tendency for fat deposition to increase and feed conversion efficiency to get worse.
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