Gilt Watch – some stark messages one year on

Angela Cliff is AHDB Knowledge Exchange Manager for the Midlands. Prior to joining AHDB in 2006 she worked with pig breeding companies as technical support for AI and reproduction

During the past year we have been collecting data from the Gilt Watch group of producers.Some of the messages so far have been stark – in short we’re losing far too many first and second parity sows.

AHDB has been collaborating with Agrosoft and Stephen Hall, who have developed a ‘gilt cohort analysis’ for Pig Vision – a new way to analyse breeding herd performance data.

Producers have also been mapping the ‘pig flow’ for their replacement gilts, ie where she is housed, her feeding programme, movements around the unit, preparation for service, etc – and asking: “Is this the best we can do?”.

The first question was how well does the Gilt Watch group, which includes both indoor and outdoor systems, represent the national herd? The answer is pretty well. The participating herds have over 15,000 sows which, over the last year, had a replacement rate of 50.4% (Agrosoft average is 53.5%) and a mortality rate of 4.9% (Agrosoft: 5.45%). However, it was when we started to re-examine which animals were removed and why that problems with the retention of parity 1 and 2 animals became apparent. Of all the animals culled or that died, a total cull share of 21.7% were from parities 1 and 2.

When examining the data from animals that were culled or were euthanised or died, 19.6% and 40.6% respectively were from parities 1 and 2. Averages never show the true picture though and, when producers were benchmarked, the top 20% were operating at a cull share of 11.5%, and a mortality rate of 19.5%. When combined, this results in the top 20% achieving a total cull share from parities 1 and 2 of just 12.9% of all the animals removed.

Then we asked why these young animals were being removed. An important question, but one we cannot accurately answer because that had not been recorded in detail. What we do know is that 49% were due to a variety of causes grouped as ‘breeding failures’.

The remaining 51% were ‘misc’or the reason was left blank. What it has highlighted is that, without good recorded information, it is difficult to identify a root cause of any production problem and, for us, why our young sows are failing. The reasons for removal will be a focus area for the Gilt Watch group over the coming months.

The third question was what is our current retention rate? When Gilt Watch began, we had a target retention of at least 85% of the original gilt intake to be served and in-pig for their third parity.The group is achieving an average retention of 71%, ranging from 60% to 82%.

Every unit has the potential to improve and it is rewarding to see how the Gilt Watch participants are grasping the opportunity to interact with other Gilt Watch members and hear about different gilt rearing and production systems.


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About The Author

Angela Cliff is AHDB Pork's knowledge transfer manager for the Midlands. She joined the levy body in 2006