Choosing a sow

Whether you have just a few pigs or a large sow operation, choosing the right sow is an important consideration for your goals. There has been a lot of crossbreeding to improve traits so honing in on one particular breed may not be a critical focus.

Elizabeth Hines is an extension swine specialist at Penn State University. She says a good sow is one that’s productive.

"You can define productivity in a number of ways, but very commonly people define productivity in a sow operation as their conception and farrowing rate, the litter size at farrowing when those piglets are born and at weaning can have a pretty heavy influence on how productive that sow is," says Hines. "You’ll also want to consider the number of litters per sow per year."

Litter size is economic efficiency and a highly selectable factor. You want a sow that can produce at least two litters per year and able to produce enough milk to feed all of her piglets. Also consider her mothering abilities during the lactation phase. Does she pay attention to where her piglets are?

"If you lose piglets because she has laid on them or because she has stepped on them and broken legs, that is not a good mothering-ability sow," says Hines. "You want a sow that is going to look for her piglets before she lays down, she’s going to lay down slowly to give them time to get out from underneath her or away from her. Even if you are in loose housing or pasture housing you want a sow that’s going to look for her pigs before it lays down."

Also look at her structural soundness. She should have sturdy feet and legs, and good muscle definition. There are many characteristics to consider so don’t buy an animal just by looking at it. Ask the seller for records to make sure she’s capable of producing what you’re looking for.