Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Breeding Assessment of Boars
If you are looking to add a herd boar to your homestead, you need to be sure that you take the time to choose one with high quality characteristics. The quality of the herd boar is directly related to the quality of the offspring that will be produced. Let's take a few minutes to discuss how to choose the best herd boar.
Should You Keep a Boar with Your Pig Herd?
Not every pig herd needs a boar. Herds that don’t have many sows won’t be cost effective with a boar. However, if you have at least 10 sows (industry standard is 18-20 sows per boar) and you want to control the genetics of your herd, then you may want to keep a boar on farm. Otherwise, you can look into alternative breeding options that may be more efficient for your operation.
How to Choose a Boar for Your Homestead
If you decide to purchase a boar, pay more attention to the characteristics of each individual boar than the bloodlines of the animal. You could find a boar from excellent bloodlines in the heritage breed of your choice, and he may not have high quality characteristics himself.
To determine if the boar you are considering is high quality, look at the breed standards to see what is common for this particular pig. You will also want to look at the general overall characteristics of the boar. Let’s get into that now.
You don’t want to end up with a boar that doesn't have a good temperament; a boar that is hard to manage. A boar with bad temperament can become an issue whether you are a seasoned pig farmer or a novice.
One way to mitigate that aggressive behavior is through buying a young boar. When you purchase a boar that is young in age, you are actually able to train it up the way that you need. Raising a boar from a young age can help him to feel more comfortable around you and be more easygoing because he knows who you are.
Building that relationship, that rapport, with your boar will actually help you in terms of management. As someone who's raised pigs, it wasn't always the pig's fault for them not doing what I wanted them to do. A lot of times it’s a “user error”. Learning how to work with pigs and understanding how they behave really can be a way of making or breaking having a boar on your property.
2. Body Structure
You will want to make sure that the boar has a set of nice, round, bulging testicles… That only sounds weird if you make it weird, haha! This doesn't necessarily have anything to do with his sexual vigor, but what it does mean is that he has a lot of semen.
If you are purchasing a boar for breeding, make sure that BOTH of the testicles are visible and similar in size and shape. A “One-Nutter”, or a boar with only one visible testicle, usually is problematic for castration since they are concealing the other testicle.
This occurrence is medically called “cryptorchid” and can be a genetic trait that if a cryptorchid boar is allowed to breed. Although cryptorchid boars have lower fertility, they are still capable of reproducing. Again, it’s important to use robust boars for breeding.
Feet and Legs
Another characteristic to look at when choosing a boar for breeding is sound feet and legs. I can't stress this one enough.
If you have a boar with poor feet and legs, you aren’t just dealing with bad characteristics of one animal. The boar makes up 50% of your herd’s genetics and those poor characteristics can pass through to his offspring.
If you want to raise quality, then you have to breed quality.
The legs should be bendable and have some flexibility to them. This is especially important for the front legs. They should also have a little bit of a curve to them instead of pointing straight down.
To be sure that you know what to look for in a pig’s feet, go online. There are plenty of photos of what good feet and bad feet look like for pigs.
Loin and Shoulders
You also want a boar that has a deep body. So a boar that has a nice long loin. The reason why I say that is because you are raising pigs for pork production, not pets.
Long loins in the boar will lead to long loins in most offspring so you will have more pork to eat and/or higher quality breeding stock to sell. A longer loin = more pork chops, more bacon, longer short ribs, those kinds of things.
Broad shoulders are important in a breeding boar as well. You want a muscular, masculine looking pig. If you're breeding boars that don't really look masculine…where you look at them and think, “Wow! Is that a gilt or is that a boar?”... You don't want that. You want to look at your boar and think, “Wow! That's a big boy right there!”.
Tips for Raising a Boar on the Homestead
1. Keep the Boar Separate from the Sows & Gilts
After you have purchased a boar for your homestead, you will need to make sure that he is separated from the sows. A boar should really only be in with the sows during breeding time. It's not good for the sows to have a boar with them especially toward the end of their gestation periods, as they're about to give birth and farrow out.
I've seen some people try to keep the boar with the sows all the time and had success. But, the rule of thumb is to keep the boar separate only until breeding time. Some people will bring the sow to the boar and some people will bring this boar to the sow. Both ways can work, it just depends on your context. So experiment and see what works best for you.
Keeping the boar separate also allows for you to rotate with another sow. Depending on what your breeding operation might look like, you might actually want to have the boar “service” on different occasions rather than in one lump sum. That also allows a boar to rest and stay vigorous later on.
2. Don’t Breed at Earliest Sexual Maturity
Although most boars reach sexual maturity around six to seven months of age (there are exceptions: Meishan, Vietnamese Pot-Belly, etc), you will want to wait until about a year to breed. This is just so that the boar has time to prove itself in terms of its quality and how it looks.
If you breed a boar too early, you may later realize that the boar didn’t meet your expectations, which means that your next litter of piglets won’t be of high quality.
3. Determine the Number of Boars You Need
If you are not registering breeding stock, then you can run two boars with your sows. By doing this you can significantly increase the average litter size of your herd.
Sows can actually have litters that are from multiple boars. You might have 10 piglets that come from boar number one and five piglets that come from another boar within one litter. So if one boar did a sloppy job, the other boar can come in and “clean up”.
4. Keep Boars in Good Body Condition
I think another thing to keep in mind just for maintenance is making sure that you have boars that are not fat. Try not to breed fat boars to your sows. Overweight boars can actually cause crushing or bodily injuries to a sow while they're being bred.
Don’t feed your boar a high calorie diet as this will fatten him up. Provide a maintenance brand of feed and oats as a source of calories. This will allow for the boar to have a better performance in the long run.
Quick tip, do not breed while the boar’s belly is full. Breed early in the morning before you feed as this usually allows for them to have a better experience overall.
Other Options for Breeding Without Keeping a Boar
Rent a Boar
I don’t personally recommend this, but you might want to consider renting a boar from a local farmer if you can’t afford to have a boar year round.
If a local pig farmer has a boar that you like, ask if you can breed him to your sows. If he says no, don't take offense to that. Many professional pig farmers will say no because of the biosecurity risk.
Even if the farmer says no, he or she might give you semen from the boar if they have that option.
Buying semen for artificial insemination is another option for small pig herds. There is plenty of pig semen out there, especially for common commercial breeds. There is not as much semen for heritage breeds, but we're working on that. You can typically find semen for heritage like Berkshire and Tamworth breeds, but there will hopefully be more options in the near future.
But fair warning, AI does require some technical skill. Your local cooperative extension swine specialist should be able to provide a training class or guided mentoring.
Additionally, I have found that purebred heritage breeds may be difficult to AI due to their unique body type. There is active research being conducted to establish best practices for AI with breeds such as English Large Blacks and Gloucestershire Old Spots. Here is one major success story in recent news.