The Genepacker 90 is still packing a punch at 25

As the JSR Genepacker 90 celebrates its silver jubilee, we take a look at the reasons behind its enduring popularity

It’s 25 years since the first F1 Genepacker 90 gilts were produced from pure-bred Large White and Landrace dam lines, but today it’s still used to power JSR’s own 4,500 sow commercial production business and is sold to indoor pig producers throughout the country. It’s the breeding company’s top-selling product line and continues to grow in popularity year-on-year.

So what explains the enduring success of this “grand old dam” of the UK pig industry? Well, that’s easy according to JSR’s UK sales director, Giles Christie.

“The Genepacker 90 gilts’ performance outstrips the competition and just keeps getting better, thanks to the dedication and expertise of our genetics research and development team,” he says. “To a large extent, the figures speak for themselves (see table 1).

“This has been achieved by getting lots of things right. First of all, we don’t cut corners. We only produce true FI gilts from genetically advanced, carefully selected pure-bred dam lines. This ensures maximum hybrid vigour, which helps the Genepacker 90 to produce large vigorous litters.

“Our genetic improvement programme has taken a broad and balanced approach. We have selected animals in our nucleus herds against a carefully composed range of traits and indexes to produce animals that are truly ‘fit for farm’. By that, we mean animals that will help our customers achieve their commercial objectives, to grow their businesses and make more profit.”

Mr Christie says a good example of this is that rather than focusing on a single headline-grabbing output, such as increasing numbers of pigs born, JSR has focused instead on improving numbers of pigs born alive.

“This has included measuring still as well as live births in order to select away from animals that score highly on that measure,” he says. “We’ve also selected for size. Smaller animals require less feed than their larger counterparts to achieve the same or superior output.

“We’ve worked hard to develop the longevity of our Genepacker 90 gilts. This is because, as pig producers know, sows typically produce two or three more piglets in their third, fourth and fifth parities, compared to the first or second.

“A comparative study of survival rates for the Genepacker 90 and the product of a major competitor at Harper Adams showed that just 70% of the competitor sows made it through to the start of parity three compared to 87% of the Genepacker 90s. By the start of parity 6, only 45% of competitor sows were still productive against the Genepacker 90’s 60%.

“A herd running the competitor product will, therefore, have to replace stock at a faster rate (55%) than with the Genepacker 90 (47%), to maintain a herd profile no older than sixth parity. So focusing on longevity is paying dividends across the board for our customers. And once again this meets our criteria of being ‘fit for farm’.”

Tests, trials and average scores are one thing, but how does all this work in practice? Patrick Stephen of Carden Livestock, who farms 570 sows on his unit at Conglass, Inverurie, has been achieving even better results.

“Following the introduction of a new sow-feeding programme, during the past five weeks Patrick has achieved an average of 12.69 weaned,” Mr Christie says. “In the best week of that period he averaged 17.33 born and 16.13 born alive.

“With the support of JSR’s consultant nutritionist, John Barber, Patrick has been feeding his Genepacker 90 gilts and sows according to their weight and P2 backfat. This is measured with a hand-held back scanner and the data recorded is used to devise optimum feeding programmes for individual animals.

“The idea behind the programme is that the traditional means of evaluating and grading a pregnant sow’s condition by eye, is a poor means of determining how fat or thin she really is. A 2001 trial investigating the relationship between backfat and condition score did find a correlation, but though the condition score had an average backfat thickness of 13.7mm, this varied between sows from 7.5mm to 23mm.

“This is important because a pregnant sow’s condition is used to determine how much food she’s given. This, in turn, is vital because high backfat at farrowing – greater than 21mm – will reduce lactation and feed intake, and have a negative impact on the health of her litter. So, by working towards the optimum backfat depth at farrowing of 17-19mm you can increase lactation and feed intake.”

Mr Christie adds that this can also increase the numbers born alive and weaning survival rates, and it has a positive influence on the numbers born alive in future pregnancies and overall longevity. Both of these factors can make a huge difference to the commercial success of any production operation.

“Making sure that we feed our sows the correct amount has really worked for us,” Mr Stephen says. “However, it’s also important that our animals feed and lactate well naturally. The Genepacker 90 performs well on both counts. We’ve also found them to be docile and easy to manage.”

So, the official statistics can be achieved and in some cases, bettered. But what of the future for the Genepacker 90? Has it peaked or is there further room for improvement?

JSR’s director of science and technology, Dr Grant Walling, says that further improvement is certainly possible, despite the fact that huge advances have already been made.

“In terms of numbers born alive, we reckon that over the past 10 years we’ve been improving our performance at the rate of 0.2 piglets per year,” he adds. “That equates to a 40 or 50% improvement during that time.

“Taking an even longer view, back in the 1960s the average pig would have produced about 14 piglets/year. Today, JSR farms are achieving 27.9 pigs per sow per year using the Genepacker 90, which represents a 100% improvement.

“We will continue to select against a broad range of traits and indexes and because we use the Genepacker 90 in our own commercial herd, the pressure is on internally as well as externally to continue to do everything better!”

As for the future Dr Walling says that, among other things, JSR will be looking at teat numbers.

“This is variable in nature, but as we increase the numbers of piglets born alive, we need to make sure that they can be adequately sustained through to weaning,” he says. “We’ll also be doing more work to reduce weaning-to-service intervals, provided this can be achieved with no loss in performance. By gathering and analysing data in this sphere, we believe that we can further develop the advice and support we’re able to give to our customers to help them to get even more from the Genepacker 90.

“The optimum age for first service, however, is 240 days and this should be adhered to as closely as possible. Animals need to be sufficiently mature to achieve the best possible performance.

“Last, but not least, as pig units grow, ease of management will become a more important focus going forwards,” Dr Walling adds. “Of course, animals of any kind that have the capacity to be good and prolific mothers can, in certain situations, seek to defend their position. Difficulties in this sphere are rare, but environmental factors, such as the equal availability of warmth, food and water have an important role to play.

“By working closely with our customers and sharing best practice in this field we will be able to meet changing commercial needs, so I believe the Genepacker 90 has a bright future, at the heart of our business and our customers’ businesses.”

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