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Respect for Udders

When I visit a pig farm the most important visual I look for as soon as possible is the pen, yard or paddock holding the most recently weaned sows. As a stockman (person) there is just one thing I want to see and to take time studying…it is the udders of these animals. Why? Because it tells me a lot about the farm and the management strategy whether by decision or by default. Before visiting the weaning pen however, it is good to check the animals that are due to farrow next on the unit.

In the weaned sow group is around 75% of the next service group in the production cycle sequence of the herd. This recently weaned part of service group will comprise of parity 1 to whatever parity is allowed in the management structure. Depending on the herd size the group will be around 20 animals (and should not be more) and comprise either the entire post-wean service group or groups balance by size/parity. I believe that the 1 to 5 parity structure is the most successful social re-grouping of service groups.

The udder tells us quite a lot about the herd. First of all, I am looking for udders with 12 to 16 working/worked quarters depending on what the producer’s requirements are in terms of phenotypic selection criteria. Full udders at weaning indicate the potential of the next lactation and the success of the lactation just completed. Working/worked quarters are of course the result of fully functioning teats. It is important to observe that a swelling quarter is the healthy sign of a well fed litter and not of an infected udder that needs treatment and may not work again. Any quarter that has not worked in the most recent lactation will not work again according to reliable research. Observation of the youngest parity 1 sows, pre-service, is particularly important as this animal’s continuing in production will be a high risk in a well-managed herd function. Individual animals must be regarded within the context of overall herd function when being evaluated, and the evaluation must be objective towards the management strategy. The purpose of observing the animals next in line to farrow on the unit is to get an understanding of the condition score of these animals pre-farrowing so that you can evaluate the level of condition score loss at weaning. It needs to be around a loss of one point of body condition score (BCS). Sow and gilts to farrow need to have a BCS of 3.5+ to 4.0+ in order to present physiologically strong breeding animals at the start of the next production cycle and into the opening 6 weeks of gestation having lost one point. It is worth finding out what the feed levels were after day 21 of lactation (at least maintained if not increased) and what flushing is subsequently done in the wean to service interval.

Once you are satisfied that the udder has done a good job in lactation and that the body score reinforces this, you can take a look at the weaned piglets. Depending on the herd reported average weaning age and what you have observed in the weaned sow accommodation, the condition and bodyweight of the weaned pigs should confirm the success of the udder management in the herd. The combination of a well worked totally functioning udder as the belly line of a sow that is displaying a body on the catabolic/metabolic cusp is reassurance that potential for conception, implantation and placental development is high. The visible udder is the visual precursor to the invisible (internal) development of the next litter and when that litter is born it gives the visual confirmation that the lactation management of the previous production cycle has been correct. It is very important to have respect for udders.

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