When a swine breeding decision is made, the owner can only hope the mating produces a healthy, high-quality litter of pigs. Using a new sire or starting a new sow herd can be a gamble, but that’s also part of the fun. From the time the babies hit the ground and are sold as show hogs, then fed, trained and exhibited at their final event, it’s important to keep track of each pig’s progress. Tracking their pigs from birth to the final show, helps the breeder decide whether that particular mating was a success or not.
Rick Whitman, owner of RW Genetics in Anderson, Texas, says it’s his job to know the success and failures of his breeding results. With 120 crossbred, 50 Duroc and 25 Yorkshire sows, he produces pigs for the show ring, supplies breeding stock and has placed about 100 boars in stud.
When he sells a show prospect locally, it’s easy to watch it grow and gauge how it turns out. Many of his buyers send photos and videos throughout the season so Whitman can see his pigs grow. And of course, he’ll do farm visits to evaluate how his pigs are doing on feed before they get to the county fair or Texas major shows.
What Whitman learns about his mating choices is important to the future of his herd. For example, he might need to breed sows earlier to produce a set of older pigs and be certain they’re heavy enough for next year’s show. He knows the frame size of the sow will dictate her progeny’s end weight so Whitman will adjust for the upcoming year after making mental notes on how her last set of pigs performed.
Whitman maintains a sow herd based on skeletal confirmation, sound feet and legs and muscularity. His boar selection is based on what traits a popular or proven sire can contribute to his foundation females.
“We try to win barrow shows, but also produce sires that produce show pigs and grandparents of show pigs,” Whitman says.
He has considered a futurity of his own, a private show where pigs he’s sold can come back and compete among one another, to monitor his pigs’ progress. However, many of his customers are in the same geographic region and he’s able to watch his pigs at county fairs and state shows. These are good assessments on how his mating selections have turned out.
Whitman’s business approach is to stay successful each year and not follow all the fads. He says a smaller breeder may want to pick a female and a boar mating that would create immediate success, but his goal is to breed multiple generations of quality.
“We want to get on base every time, not just try to hit for a home run,” he says.
No Surprises Here
When John Huinker reflects on his mating choices, he’s not often surprised because he puts emphasis on creating sound, functional females that are consistent and balanced.
He certainly checks in with his show pig buyers throughout the season to see how their animals look. But, because he retains some of each litter for his finishing operation, Huinker can typically tell how the majority of each mating turns out.
“I don’t look back and evaluate with how many banners I’ve got,” he says. “The phenotype that wins changes every few years but what’s right never changes.”
Huinker manages 130 Duroc and 40 crossbred sows near Decorah, in northeastern Iowa. He sells half his production as show pigs and the rest as breeding stock. And while Huinker has seen recent success in the crossbred arena, he’s known for his high-selling Duroc boars and females. He says his sow herd is sacred and when he assesses each mating he knows what works to make the next one better, even if it’s the same genetic pairing.
“We’ve created a lot of fun in the show ring but 70-percent of our business is Duroc females,” he says. “We sample new sires, but we’ve established a real core for our sow side.”
Many breeders choose to build a sow herd they like then use the boar to tweak various traits, therefore breeding the sows to the most popular boar on a flyer. In contrast, Huinker’s dad says he has a “keeping disease” because Huinker likes to retain so many gilts from litters and keep sows that have proven successful. He is also not afraid to breed them the same, several times to make more high-quality breeding females.
“People say I’m old school but I really like tried and proven,” he says. “Using the new, hottest one is not a priority to me. I believe a turtle wins a lot of races.”
Huinker says the best part of measuring effective matings is when he sees a gilt grow to become better than her mother. Because he believes so much in his sow families he attributes success to making consistent, functional females from each mating.
“That’s when you’re successful,” he says. “The only way you can build is if the daughter is better than the mother.”