Brood Sows and Their Litters
by R.L. Hill, 1913
Driving across the country, several trips in the mid 1970s, I remember seeing mid-western farm after farm with mixed livestock operation the cornerstone of which seemed to be either poultry or swine or a combination. Those were the days when the small independent farm could measure its profitability by measuring its diversity. With the misguided wholesale push to specialization and industrial agribusiness, advantage was given to large scale confinement hog and poultry operations and we witnessed a rapid exit of these species from small farms. The world has turned and today everywhere people are looking for a return to diversification in farming because it will give us greater food security and more room for humans on the farm. Hogs are returning as are the farm poultry flock. With this return is the need for a re-examination of what makes for profitable rearing ventures. A marriage of the best stock with the best feed and rearing practices is the known recipe. But what to look for in the stock? This old book from our library goes on and on about conformation and the selection process in swine. Here in these common-sense admonitions we find the foundation of good husbandry. – LRM
The Brood Sow
The brood sow with her litter is becoming such an important factor in the life of our people that world-wide consideration is being given her. One of the most valued of assets on the farm today is the brood sow and the expectancy of her litter. It is therefore necessary that due attention be given this and every other sow in order that she will produce the greatest number of pigs of the best quality the greatest possible length of time.
To accomplish this will require much thought and study on the part of every breeder of swine. Probably the greatest factor in this direction is the knowledge of the principles of breeding. If a canvass were made from farm to farm over the swine-producing states of the country, it would be surprising to know the vast number of farmers and breeders who are poorly versed on the principles of breeding. However, constant discussion of this subject in the agricultural press, through the bulletins published by the government, agricultural colleges and experiment stations, is making a strenuous effort to educate the rural population in this subject.
But knowledge of the principles of breeding will not do it all. The animals may be properly bred and the produce show exceptional merit, but if the breeder is not a good feeder the task is not half done. A good feeder does not mean the one who feeds large quantities often and produces excessive fat, but the term implies that man, who has s general knowledge of all feeds, knows what this feed and that feed contains in food value, when and how it should be fed, understands the animals’ needs and the feed to administer at all times.
And this is not all. The man may understand breeding principles as well as be a good feeder and will not make a success of the enterprise for the lack of proper methods of management. Under management may be considered the methods of housing, time of farrowing, water supply, cleanliness, sanitation, etc., each of which is of sufficient importance to require separate consideration.
Selection of the Brood Sow
If every breeder would realize that when he selects a brood sow he is taking a chance on making or losing money, he would exercise more care and judgment and be more judicious in his selection. There is a right way and a wrong way to select brood sows in the hog business the same as any other enterprise. When the selection is made along lines followed by successful breeders and along methods which have proven successful, that selection will nearly always be a profitable one, although there are exceptions to this rule.
In selecting the brood sow one lays the foundation for a great deal of work. In many instances that brood sow is the foundation of a herd. In others it is the making or losing of money, either through large or small litters, or inefficiency of the brood sow as a mother. So, after all, too much stress cannot be put upon the importance of proper selection of the dam.
The selection of one sow is probably not as important as it is for a boar, for the reason that the boar is responsible for the litter of pigs produced from that sow. There is much importance attached to the selection of a number of sows to get the whole lot uniform. Above, the boar has been apportioned his chief influence in the formation of the young pigs. But an equally, if not more important duty falls for the sow to perform. She must furnish the body of the pig with the necessary internal system to enable the complete animal to readily convert its food, so that it makes rapid growth, quick gains, and all in all makes a profitable animal. The more important points which characterize a good breeding sow of the lard hog type are included in the following outline, and these should be kept well in mind in making the selections.
Breeding Lard Hogs
General Appearance and Lard Hog Type – Good size, deep, broad, medium length, arched back and straight underline; short and strong feet and legs, well balanced and good style.
Constitution, Health and Vigor – Deep, broad chest, well sprung ribs, large heart girth, good size and vigor, with healthy coat of hair and skin.
Fleshing Quality – Smooth, mellow, firm and thick covering of flesh, no roughness and not too much paunch.
General Quality – As indicated by fine hair, skin and bone; clean cut features and symmetrical development.
Conformation in Detail – Head, typical of breed, not large; neck, smooth, symmetrical; shoulders, snug, deep, smooth, well fleshed, not wrinkled; chest, deep, broad, girth large; back and loin, strong, thick, smooth, even width; sides, deep, smooth, medium length; barrel, low in flank, medium length; rump, broad, smooth, gradual slope; hams, deep, broad, smooth; legs and feet, strong, short.
The sow to use should show plenty of femininity. She should have a gentle disposition, which will make work and association with her a pleasant duty. A savage, barking sow is seldom found to be a good milker. Again, it is often necessary that the herdsman enter the pen of the farrowing sow to see that there is sufficient bedding, see to the warmth and comfort of the pigs, assist the sow in difficult cases of parturition, remove the after-birth, and many other such things, and if the sow is a savage one the herdsman is in danger. The writer bears scars at the present time as the result of an encounter with a mean sow while trying to arrange the bedding after she had farrowed.
Good size in the brood sow is essential. “A big, roomy sow” is a common expression among breeders. However, with this size the animal must have a strong back, strong loins and well sprung ribs. Too often the flat sides, weak loins and weak backs are overlooked because the individual has good size. Another point to be considered is to see that the animal has strong pasterns and stands up well. It is said that “an evenly made, compact sow, with quarters long, wide and deep, and on short legs, will rear far more pigs, and at much less cost, than will one of the very largest kind.” Breeders are now discriminating against sows whose pasterns are weak, and many make the boast that the strain which they are breeding all have strong pasterns. This is an essential point, for the sow with strong pasterns and strong bone can well take care and carry a heavy litter of pigs properly. Experiments are now being carried on to see if weak pasterns cannot be wholly eliminated from a strain of weak-pasterned animals. It is claimed by some breeders that weak pasterns are some times caused by improper feeds or the neglect to feed the proper substance. It is well that breeders look into this matter thoroughly and control it before it is too late. A sow with weak pasterns in the show ring stands little chance in competition with the well-made individuals, and this is a point that the judges seldom fail to overlook.
By all means the sow should be a generous milker. Of course this point, if the female be a gilt, is not found out until she is tried, but some light can be thrown on the subject by ascertaining whether or not her dam possessed this most essential necessity or whether or not it existed in her breeding either on the dam’s or sire’s side. As indicated before, the sow should have capacity enough to handle sufficient feed to make her a good milker. Therefore, a well-formed udder is very necessary. Some breeders emphasize this point so strongly as not to select a sow unless she has not less than twelve teats, and the more the better. These teats should be evenly distributed, even in size, and should all be milk giving. Avoid the sow with “blind” teats, that is, the nipple is not at all prominent. Also avoid the small teats which are generally located close to the well-formed teat and gives but little milk. Many breeders claim that a runt is the result of a pig having to depend on the small, undersized teats for its share of nourishment. A straight, even underline, even from front to back, with well-placed teats and well-formed udder on a sow is always appreciated. If the above statement is true regarding runt pigs, it will pay big to take precautions against the small teats and select animals who do not carry them.
Some men claim that the number of teats which a sow possesses is an indication of her prolificacy. This claim does not hold good in many instances. Some claim that the best pigs in the litter are those which suck from the teats nearest to the front legs.
An important requisite of the sow is prolificacy. This quality in the animal is found out only after trial, but by thorough investigation and continued proper selection it can be governed to a desirable degree. Prolificacy can usually be secured by selecting sows from a breeder whose herd has been bred with this particular point in view. On the number of pigs per litter and the frequency of such litters depends the usefulness of the sow and her cash value.
The more important points which characterize a good breeding sow of the bacon hog type are included in the following outline:
General Appearance and Lard Hog Type – Good size, medium width, very deep, long, slightly arched back and straight underline, strong feet and legs. Light waste.
Fleshing Condition – Well matured, smooth, medium thick, not too much fat, mellow, firm and even covering of flesh. Shoulders and sides very smooth.
General Quality – As indicated by fine hair, skin and bone; clean cut features and symmetrical development.
Constitution, Health and Vigor – Deep, broad chest, well sprung ribs, large heart girth, good size and vigor, with healthy coat of hair and skin.
Conformation in Detail – Head, typical, not too much jowl; neck, smooth, medium length; shoulders, deep, smooth; back and loin, smooth, even width; sides, deep, long, smooth; rump, long, smooth, even width; hams, deep, even width; feet, strong.
In answer to a number of inquiries from practical breeders, I have the following in regard to what they consider in the proper selection of breeding animals. Some of these are very detailed and after a thorough study of them before breeding animals, one should be in a fair way enabled to select breeding animals.
Much depends upon the selections made of individuals that make up our breeding herd. After having decided upon the breed that appeals to our own personal tastes and is most suited to local conditions, then we should choose a boar to head that herd that would have the following general characteristics: First, and above all, he must show strongly the breed characteristics of the breed of which he is a representative. Then he must show strong masculine characteristics. He must show masculinity in the head – not be too finely featured – wide between the eyes, and not fine in the snout nor the jowl. The head, neck and shoulders should blend well. The neck should be short with some crest and thickness; the shoulders should be smooth and compact on top, deep and wide between the legs, and blend well with a large, full heart girth. We should be disappointed if there were no indications of shield on the boar, thus showing a lack of masculinity, but we do not want thick, heavy shoulders. The body should be long, smooth, evenly fleshed, with a slight arch of good depth and with a wide, strong loin. The hind quarters should be long, deep and wide, well let down in the ham, and having a width equal to that of the shoulders and body. Supporting all this should be four short legs, showing good, strong bone of a fine quality, having short pasterns, and standing well on the toes. The covering of hair should be abundant and of medium quality. He should be active, not sluggish, yet docile, and of a quiet disposition. With these characteristics are usually found active digestion and an inclination to take on flesh readily.
The sow should possess essentially all the characteristics of the boar, except that she should show refinement in those characteristics that indicate femininity. The body should be long, showing great digestive capacity and room for carrying young, and with twelve to fourteen evenly sized teats. The hind quarters always should be broad to obviate difficulty in parturition. There should always be a good width between the eyes, for narrowness in the head indicates meanness of disposition, difficulty in managing, and nervous, restless pigs. So much regarding origination or breeding.
In selecting a sow, a great many of the same general principles hold as for the boar. The sow should have all the characteristics of femininity, which are indicated by the clear-cut features about the head, neck, shoulders and body. The head should be short and broad without undue coarseness, having that mild expression of character which is possessed by the good mother. The eyes should be mild, large, clear and bright; and the ears of medium size and fine in quality. The jowl, as in the boar, should be full and firm, yet not bristles in the coat. While the term femininity is rather difficult to define, it is in many respects the exact opposite of masculinity. The other points of primary importance are prolificacy, constitution, form, quality and breeding capacity.
Prolificacy signifies the power to bring forth young in uniformly large numbers. This is a characteristic which can not be determined by making a simple examination of the animal. The ancestors of the animal in question must be studied in determining the degree of prolificacy of a sow. It is not always possible to make an accurate study of this point, however, since only pure bred animals are recorded, and comparatively few men keep permanent breeding records. In selecting either boars or sows, it is important that a tentative selection be made while they are still suckling the mother. In this way, the size of the litter and the uniformity of same may be determined.
The mother should be an animal of strength and vigor, as it is necessary for the feed which she eats not only to maintain her own body, but at the same time nourish a litter of pigs. A really useful sow should be capable of doing this work for a period of five or six years or even longer. This requires a strong constitution, which is indicated by a broad, deep chest, large snout and nostrils, large, clear bright eyes, a broad and deep chest and plenty of capacity for digesting large quantities of food.
The form of the brood sow should be that of a parallelogram with a long, deep and broad body, standing on short, straight, strong legs, and feet with pasterns erect. The body should be compact, as this typifies a good feeding animal. The head should be short, broad and deep; neck short; jowl full and firm; shoulders broad, smooth and deep back slightly arched; sides even, and the width of the body at the shoulder carried out to the buttock. This is a point where a great many animals are weak, the body as a whole growing narrow toward the rear quarters. The sow with deep sides and a long underline has generally great capacity, as the teats are more likely to be large, numerous and well placed. At least twelve well-formed teats should be in evidence.
The quality of the sow is indicated exactly in the same manner as the boar. The features should be clear-cut, shoulders compact, body smooth and uniform throughout, covered with a fine, silky, glossy coat of straight hair. The bone should be clean, firm and dense, with just enough size to carry the weight which the animals will be subjected to. It is better to select an animal with a bone somewhat coarse than one that has insufficient bone to carry the weight.
Without the proper symmetry and development of these characteristics, the value of the animal is largely destroyed. Select the brood sow which has first of all health, femininity, a long broad and deep body with large capacity and record showing prolific ancestors.
There is hardly a swine growing farmer in the West who can not improve his annual crop of pigs by a more careful selection of the dams, provided he first gets in his mind a clear idea of the principles that should guide him in his choice. The foremost point that should influence him in the choice of the brood sow depends upon the fact that she is kept expressly for the purpose of being a mother to litters of pigs. From this it follows that she should be long and roomy, with a deep body, a back somewhat arched and broad and strong across the loins, for if the sow is to be prolific she must have room to work. She should have a broad, placid face, and ears that are not at all of the nervous kind, because for a nervous sow the cares of maternity are apt to be too much, and neither she nor her pigs are safe during and just after farrowing time. It is, moreover, not enough for her to be able to get pigs; she must also be able to furnish them with sustenance, and this requires that she should be a good milker.
With gilts the seine grower will have to rely chiefly upon the family she comes from in estimating the probable milking quality, but with a sow that has already borne litters of pigs, watch her milk capacity and how she has nourished pigs, and in determining whether or not she is to be retained as a breeder be guided largely by the milk supply she has been able to give previous litters. She should have from ten to twelve teats, because it not only affords some indication of her capacity to have large litters, but also provides the means of nursing them when large litters come.
See, also, that she has strong bone, stands well on her feet, and has a good coat of hair. Do not fall into the very common error of selecting gilts for breeding purposes by the way they please the eye. A very smooth, short-bodied, round gilt is apt to catch the fancy, but it is the worst selection one could make in choosing breeding sows. It is preferable that the sows be, if anything, a little coarse, and if fining is desired it can be done by a suitable choice of the sire with which she is to be mated.
Breeders should pay more attention to the development of milking capacity than has been the case if they wish to attain the best results. It can easily be done by watching each sow’s performance as a milker with her pigs. It is true that we have made wonderful strides in producing milking strains in cattle, but is equally true that we have lost the capacity for milk production in some other breeds where beef alone was bred for. We have methods of testing the milking qualities of the cow, and we have equally as good methods for testing those of the brood sow. We test the cattle with the Babcock test, and the sow with her litter of pigs. One shows the amount of fat; the other tests the whole milk and shows equally well the amount of bone, muscle and growth-making elements in the milk.
There are certain forms in milking animals that seem to be characteristic of the milk producer, while another and different form indicates the beef or pork producer. I know from past experience that to keep up a herd of good milking brood sows they must be selected with reference to this capacity. The heavy boned, short-legged, low down, chunky sow is rarely a good milker. Those of this type make lots of pork, but it seems contrary to their nature and build to yield the nourishment up to their offspring. On the other hand, the sow built after the type of our dairy cattle, with long, deep, wedge shaped body, the lines running not so straight, making an animal not so pleasing to the eye, is, as I find, by far the best milking sow and capable of producing the best litter of pigs. We can, to some extent, sacrifice milking quality to form, but in the cow we can not do this and make it profitable. It is generally admitted that the general purpose cow is not as profitable for either beef or milk as one bred especially for one purpose or the other. With the sow it is somewhat different; we want a general-purpose sow that will furnish plenty of milk for her young and will care for a large litter of pigs, keeping them growing until they are large enough to eat on their own account, but we do not need, as in the case of the cow, a large amount of milk beyond this. This much, however, we must have if we are raising many pigs, because the milk is the only food that the young pig will grow upon until he gets to be four weeks old or more, when he will gradually commence to eat. If you have an old sow that will give this amount of milk, keep her. If you want to select young sows, now is the time to do it, or when they are ready to wean.
Select them from your best old sows, and to do this watch carefully the behavior of each dam as a mother, nurse and suckler, and mark the pigs then. If this is done the breeder can, in a few years, have a herd that will be a great deal better as breeders than they would be without selection. It would also be well if the boar could be selected along the same lines, keeping in mind always, of course, the form of the profitable feeder, as well as good milking and feeding qualities of the sow.
When the litters are drawing their sustenance for the first two months of their lives from the dams, it will be a good time for the swine grower to watch his brood sows to see which of them are good milkers and which are not, so that he may know what to save for future breeding operations and thereby make sow selection. It makes little difference how good looking a sow may be nor how perfect according to the standards of her breed, if she does not give an abundance of milk she is of little or no use as a brood sow. Calves may be successfully raised without ever tasting their mothers’ milk, but in profitable pig growing there is a period during which nourishment drawn direct from the udder is essential. A good sized litter of pigs makes heavy drafts on the dam during this period for the increase in weight is or ought to be great. A good brood sow must therefore give an abundance of milk. If she is unable to do so under proper management, she should not be bred again.
The owner has a duty to perform in this connection, however, and a meager flow of milk is not always the sow’s fault. We all recognize the necessity for feeding the dairy cow in a manner suited to the work we expect of her. If we want milk we know we must feed milk-producing food. The same principle applies to the feeding of the brood sow. If she is to furnish a supply of milk sufficient to keep a large litter thrifty she must be fed for its production. After she is brought to full feed subsequent to farrowing the feeding should be quite liberal and mainly of nitrogenous foods, such as shorts, bran, skim milk, oil cake and the like, with oats and some roots, if possible. Sloppy foods are very useful for increasing the milk flow, and the sow should be fed very much as one would feed a dairy cow from which a good flow of milk was desired. At the same time the feeding should not be too exclusively nitrogenous, or the sow will get thin. Corn, barley and the like should also be given as condition may seem to warrant. If the dam seems to be inclined to run down in flesh too much the fattening food should be increased. The feeding of the sow during the nursing period is important. Feed for milk, and if she does not respond, don’t use her as a brood sow again.
From the above letters the reader can obtain some valuable information which has taken years to collect, but in the end has meant success. The selection of breeding animals is being given more and more attention, all of which goes to make rapid strides in the advancement of the swine industry.
Breeding Age of Females
The question of the proper age of breeding a gilt has not been settled definitely to suit all breeders. Some say that eight months is as young as it is judicious or proper to breed the gilt, while others prefer the animal to be a year old before breeding her. Gilts will come in heat when they are three months old if they are highly fed and well kept, and care should be exercised to see that the males and females are separated at this time.
Some base their conclusions for the proper age for breeding on the development the young female has made. However, it is seldom advisable to breed a gilt before she is eight months old. Many breeders who have sows worthy of entering the show ring do not breed them earlier than twelve months.
The fact that the young sow is seldom able to raise a fairly sized litter of pigs when less than eight months old is one of the great objections to breeding gilts early. The first eight months of the gilt’s life should be devoted to her development in full, she should not be taxed to farrow and raise a litter of pigs without first having obtained her full growth. It is asking too much of the animal to have it farrow and nurse a litter of pigs before eight months of age and obtain her full growth, too. If she is called upon to do this her growth is usually stunted and her productive organs not developed properly. If she should raise only a few pigs her first litter her mammary glands do not develop properly and she rarely makes as good a nurse with subsequent litters as the sow which raises a good sized first litter.
The above is the general and almost decided opinion of the great majority of breeders; however, experiments and investigations are under way to ascertain the exactness of these statements.
Some claim that if the sow bred early is allowed rest from breeding for one or more periods after her first early litter she will secure her growth and come on as though she were never bred. The question then arises whether or not this is economical to lose one or more breeding periods in getting an early litter to let the female get her growth, or to first let the animal get her growth and then breed regularly. There is a diversity of opinion on this point.
It is bad practice to breed a mature sow when she comes in heat a few days after she farrows. A great many sows will take the boar at this time, but is needless to say that it does not pay to breed her then. As it is she is taking care of one litter of pigs and herself, and she cannot be expected to accomplish much or do justice to herself and take care of two litters of pigs. It is the custom to breed a mature sow a few days after her pigs are weaned, provided she is in good condition and has not had such a large litter that her condition has been pulled down by nursing. It is generally accepted that a sow which has raised a large litter and is very much emaciated and bred immediately after her pigs are weaned, will give birth to a small litter the next time. The breeder’s judgment will govern this. If the sow is much emaciated she should be given a rest of from three to six weeks upon good wholesome feed, allowing her to get back to her normal condition. She should regain the vigor and vitality which she lost in bringing the previous litter to weaning time. After this has been done she will be ready to be bred again, and not before. This does not mean that the sow should be given fattening foods altogether, and be made too fat, but should be in good breeding condition. If this system is followed there will be better chances for a larger litter when the sow is bred, and will lessen the probability of a small litter. The appearance of a small litter when a sow is bred immediately after weaning a large litter and is emaciated is a common occurrence, and strange to say, many men are at a loss to find the cause. A little nature study is not amiss here. A sow must be in good strength and be full of vigor and vitality at the time of breeding in order to almost insure a large, growthy and vigorous littler.
Some sows have trouble at farrowing time in delivering the pigs. What has been said in the previous paragraph will apply here, for if the sow is in proper physical condition, healthy, and not too fat, there need be no trouble at farrowing time. The pregnant sow must be fed a feed that is not only rich in protein, but is also somewhat bulky, so as to satisfy her appetite, and a laxative, in order to keep her system in the proper condition.
There are two general systems practiced in breeding young sows and gilts. First, that system where the females are bred at eight months of age for that the gilt will farrow her litter when twelve months or a year old. Some advantages claimed for this system are that breeding this way has a tendency to increase the capacity of the animal, thereby making her a better mother. Here again comes the question of whether or not breeding the gilt at eight months tends to make her under-sized. The feed that she gets when bred at eight months is utilized to produce and suckle her litter, under which circumstance she stands great chances of not growing in to the large sow that she would probably have been had she not been bred. It is for this reason that a great many men prefer to wait until the animal is twelve months old before breeding her. The men who do consider the question of lack of size through breeding at the age of eight months claim they get around this difficulty by waiting six months after the sow weans her pigs before breeding her again, thus insuring her plenty of time is which to obtain her neglected growth. This practice is to be commended where the gilts are bred at eight months of age. Following this practice the sow is two years old when she farrows her second litter. It is claimed that by breeding for the first litter at eight months and getting a second litter at two years the good effects of early breeding are secured and the bad effects are eliminated, making the sow more prolific, a better mother, and at the same time attain her natural good size.
The second system consists in letting the female obtain her full growth before breeding her, that is, breeding the gilt so she will farrow at from fourteen to eighteen months of age, and thereafter breeding her regularly.
The system to be followed will depend upon the preference of the breeder. He will have to make his own choice. If the gilts are given proper care and attention and pushed right along until they are of good size at eight months old, I see no great reason for objection in following the first system.
A prominent breeder of pure bred swine for the fat hog trade gives his opinion regarding the breeding of young sows as follows:
“It is a common mistake, made by inexperienced hog raisers, those just entering the business, to breed their sows too young. Swine grow and develop very rapidly from the food they eat, and it is this rapid growth that causes in many cases, too early breeding. There are some feeders and breeders who seem to assume that hogs have some faculty comparable to that of our inestimable leguminous plants, which we are told gather much of their sustenance from the atmosphere, and consequently do not need very much attention until near the time of their marketable age.
“Now, while air and sunshine are quite essential for the life and healthfulness of all animals, hogs included, in their making use of feeds eaten, the condition remains that growth and profit depend upon the feed and its character. All successful breeding operations presuppose the inherited prepotent excellencies of individuals to be used, hence the young sow that is intended for a herd matron should be chosen from a litter sired by a good, well-defined, matured type of the male side of the breed selected, so that she may start in on her labor of well-doing with the advantage of being well bred.
“The dam of the young sow should be a prolific, quiet, industrious, motherly individual, typical of her breed.
“After the early selection of the future brood sow, feed and care must take up the work of bringing her into her estate. She should be kept growing and healthy, with her mission of useful motherhood always kept in view.
“Making a hog fat is not making it grow, and the young sow needs no more of the former than goes with a proper degree of the latter. Of course, she only grows from her feed consumption, and while in the first few months of life she needs about all the feed it is possible for her to consume and assimilate to make her proper growth, it is obviously an error to impose upon her thus early the strain of nourishing her unborn offspring. In fact, it is quite impossible for her to do two things – continue her growth and properly nourish her offspring – from the simple amount of feed she is able to eat; hence when the young sow is bred too early it means that her own development is unfavorably arrested and her pigs come in the world stunted weaklings.
“It has been observed that producing large families of pigs is largely a matter of habit in swine mothers; that some sows bred too young seldom have large litters, and generally fail to acquire the habit of material numerical increase in subsequent litters. The assumption is that when a breeder takes it on himself to raise a good sow, and having gotten her, he will want to keep her. This being the case he can well afford to make haste slowly and profit more in the end. If he is wise he will not breed his sow until she has good growth and reasonable age.
“Exceptionally well developed individuals may be bred at nine to ten months of age, but usually a year is quite early enough to breed the ordinary class of really good sows.”
Frequency of Litters.
The general run of farmers through the corn belt will require their sows to give more than one litter per year. There is no good reason why a sow should not produce two litters a year when properly handled, provided that the sow is not to be fitted for the sow ring. The man who is breeding his animals for exhibition purposes in competition at the shows and who wishes to have the animals hold their bloom as long as possible to make the longest circuit will breed but once a year, in order to get his sows in condition in the time between litters.
The matter of show animals does not govern the question entirely by any means. There are other circumstances entering into the decision which are deserving of great consideration. For instance, the vitality of the females in the herd has much to do with the matter. A few sows in the herd may be in such condition that it will not permit of their raising more than one litter per year, while the rest of the animals will be in more than one litter per year, while the rest of the animals will be in good condition, not emaciated, and ready to do service again. This matter of vitality must not be overlooked, for it means the ruination of many breeding animals and the decrease it the offspring which, in the long run, reverts to the loss of money. The herd should be gone over thoroughly when the sows are farrowing, while they are suckling the pigs, and when they are weaning the pigs, and each sow given sufficient study to decide whether or not she has come through the ordeal well enough to permit of her giving birth to another litter immediately.
Then again, the matter of quarters governs the question more or less. When breeding for two litters per year the first litter should come early, or when it is usually pretty cool in the corn belt, and in the fall the same temperature is usually experienced. The letters which are quoted in the following pages of this book go to show that the experiences of practical men have resulted in their being constantly on their guard in the matter of proper equipment and shelter for the brood sows and their litters, and no better point could be emphasized at this instance. Brood sows and their young pigs, to be handled successfully, must be properly housed during the cold winter months and damp weather.
From the discussion on the proper age for breeding young animals it was concluded that immature females should be bred only once per year, otherwise the normal growth very likely would be materially checked. It was also concluded that only strong, vigorous, mature brood sows should be bred twice per year.
By having the spring litter come early allowance is made for the early fall pigs, which gives them a chance to get a good start before the bad weather sets in the late fall. This is an essential point, for if pigs are once stunted by cold, damp weather, it is seldom that they ever overcome it. Good equipment and proper housing overcome this weather question, however, as has been demonstrated by breeders all over the country.
The area of land which a breeder has will determine whether or not he will breed one or two litters per year, for it is very essential that plenty of good pastures of green feed be provided and that the feeds grown on the farm should constitute the rations, which is decidedly cheaper than buying feeds. The matter of supplying sufficient green feed is receiving more and more attention in the swine raising sections. This growing of green feeds makes cheap pork, good pork and quick gains, also building up the fertility of the land, feeding what is grown, distributing the manure evenly over the land and saves labor. As we all know, the green feeds are without a doubt the best for stimulating the milk flow, which is so necessary for the brood sows, especially when they are raising two litters per year. The young pigs like green stuff, and experiments over the country go to show that the pigs raised on good green pasture make the quickest and best gains. Of course, the proper supplements should be provided in concentrates, such as corn, middlings, etc., according to the needs.
The question of proper housing must be decided by every individual breeder. The climatic conditions would make a discussion of this question impractical here, and especially since no two men agree on housing. In the South the matter of shelter does not receive the attention that it does here. The southern breeders handle their animals somewhat differently than do the northern men. The following is the substance of a letter from a southern breeder on raising two litters a year:
“When a farmer expects to raise two litters of pigs from each or any of his sows a year he must handle the sows in such a way that will accomplish this result. There should be system in breeding the sows; this being done with reference to what season of the year it is desired for being done with reference to what season of the year it is desired for the pigs to come. For the first litter it is a good plan to breed so that the sows will farrow before the weather gets too cold in the fall and then again for spring pigs as soon as possible. Of course this requires the raising of pigs in the fall without much succulent food. This, however, is not so much the case down here in the Gulf states as it is further north. This, however, is not a difficult case if the farmer goes at it right.
“The boar should be given a small amount of corn and some oats to keep him in good flesh during the fall. He should not be too fat, but in a good, thrifty condition. During the summer most of his living is secured from good pasture, and therefore he requires but little care and attention, comparatively.
“The sows should get about the same kind of feed, but they require more of it, especially when they suckle a bunch of pigs. In that case they should be fed some corn during the summer, even when they are on good pasture.
“The little pigs should be fed skim milk and corn in adjoining pen to that of the sow. Small runways should be kept in the fence just so the pigs can get through and help themselves. They will soon get accustomed to looking for food at this place and it does not take long for them to become good feeders, and after a few months they are weaned.
“It is not a good plan to breed gilts under a year old unless they are very large and vigorous, in which case nine or ten months is the best age. When sows are with pigs the boar should be taken away, and by the time she is ready to farrow it will be well worth while to watch her very closely. She should be separated from the herd and kept in a pen until the pigs are strong and able to get about quite lively. The successful hog raiser will not forge that a little care at this time will save pigs, sometimes a whole litter, and perhaps the mother.”