Dave’s awakening occurred a few years ago at a regional boot camp offered by his genetics company. There, the presenter discussed the importance of gilt development. He said gilts are significant because the size of their first litter can define their lifetime litter size, yet gilts represent quite a challenge in many ways.
First, gilts need to be of ideal age, weight and condition when bred to achieve optimal performance. In order to accomplish this, feed intake must be maximized.
However, gilts experience a lot of changes prior to breeding as they are moved from an isolation barn to a breeding barn. It often takes gilts a week to get back to full feed after being moved, which is a week of limited intake days.
No producer wants to limit feed their gilts. But the conundrum turns into either the producer wastes feed attempting to maximize feed intake or they set the boxes back to save feed, which essentially limits the gilt until they are “used to their new surroundings.”
After the presentation, Dave spent a lot of time watching. He would observe gilts entering the crate and would watch as they consumed (or didn’t consume) their feed in the mornings and afternoons. In the evenings, he would venture back over to the gestation barn to watch the gilts and see if activity was any different.
Dave observed gilts aren’t stressed over the crate. They seemed to respond well to their individual maternity pen. However, he did notice the gilts would get up at various times ready to eat, but the feed would be washed down the trough from the watering system or was no longer fresh as they would prefer it.
Then it came to Dave; the isolation barns and breeding barns have very different feeding systems. Isolation barns or finishing barns have self-feeders, which allow young gilts to eat small amounts through the day. Individual maternity pens drop large amounts of feed into a trough one to two times a day and the gilt is expected to consume it in a certain amount of time before water washes it away or it becomes stale. As Dave puts it, “We’re expecting our gilts to eat like sows.”
|MealMeter prototypes Dave tried out in his breed row.|
The wheels began to turn and prototypes were created. After coming up with a working design, Dave put what is now called the MealMeter in front of his entire gilt row. His theory proved correct. Instead of taking days to get back to full feed, gilts quickly consumed their ration when they could decide when they wanted to eat. He was on to something.
His production numbers told the same story. Before, he was in the bottom half of his contemporary group for P1 production, even with a solid breeding team whose conception rates are excellent. Six months of using the MealMeter shot his numbers up to one of the top in P1 total born. There were no other changes to breeding and management.
|Dave’s 6 month averages before and after installing the MealMeter.|
What is so exciting is P1 total born rate is just one benefit to consider. Aside from obvious feed savings, think about what starting gilts off well can do for the entire herd. For instance, Dave significantly reduced his replacement rate because now that his gilts begin well, they stay in the herd much longer.
Ron Ketchem and Mark Rix from Swine Management Services, LLC wrote in the recent article ‘Does gilt performance dictate farm success’ that not only does the farrowing rate of gilts correlate to the farrowing rate for the whole farm, but also in the amount of repeats, total born, and wean to 1stservice intervals. “(Top farms) have figured out that gilts drive the farm now and in the future. Most have invested in good genetics, have gilt-developing facilities on the farm or close by and have added labor to take care of the gilts from entry to breeding.”
Yes, gilts take more management and attention, but if you start them off right, the benefits are far reaching.
Listen to Dave tell the story here:
Until next time,