Gilts: Practical considerations from pre-breeding to first lactation

Jaron Lewton
The litter of crossbred Hampshire piglets are back to nursing soon after receiving their iron shots.

At Vita Plus, we constantly reassess our research and the work of others to ensure nutrition supports exceptional lifetime performance.

Beyond nutrition, proper gilt management leads to greater lifetime performance. Below are a few management considerations that are important pieces in setting up a gilt for success.

1. Boar exposure and HNSProvide early, direct-contact boar exposure. Gilts with direct (in pen) boar exposure come into heat earlier and more consistently than those with just fence-line exposure.

Effect of boar exposure type on gilt age at puberty.

It is recommended to start daily exposure early and begin recording heat-no-service (HNS) dates at day 140 of age to accurately monitor timing of individual gilt estrus and to increase lifetime farrowing rate and days spent in the herd.

Impact of puberty timing on lifetime performance.

2. Timely breedingGilts should be bred on their second or third estrus cycle, and at 300 to 330 pounds. Breeding gilts that are too light can decrease conception rate and reduce litter sizes; breeding gilts that are too heavy increases lifetime feed maintenance demand and leads to more locomotive/lameness issues.

Impact of weight at first at first service on total born through three parities.

3. Load up gilt littersLifetime milk production and teat function is highly affected by the first parity. Loading up gilts with full litters (14 healthy pigs for 14 functional teats) improves milk production during the next parity. Milk production is highly correlated to piglet growth rate, so it is important to use all functional teats in the first parity.

Relationship of P1 teat use to wean weight in the following parity.

4. Limit stressAnything that stresses the gilt prior to breeding can increase cortisol levels and negatively impact ovulation and conception rate. It is recommended to avoid moving, crate breaking, and/or vaccinating within three weeks of breeding. Heat stress can lead to similar effects, decreasing the onset of estrus and fetal viability.

5. Flush pre-breedFlush-feeding (ad libitum) gilts for the last 14 days prior to breeding can positively impact ovulation rate and litter size (McCaw, 2000). Flush-feeding improves the plane of nutrition just prior to breeding, but it is important to return to maintenance nutritional levels after first breeding.

Jaron Lewton is a Vita Plus swine technical sales specialist.