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Tips for Choosing Breeding Sows & Gilts

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Breeding Assessment of Sows and Gilts

When you are selecting a sow or a gilt for your breeding stock, take a close look at the individual animal’s characteristics instead of relying on bloodlines. An animal may come from high quality bloodlines, but have low quality characteristics herself.

What to Consider When Selecting a Sow or Gilt for Breeding

You will want to pay attention to the temperament, body structure, and genetic birth rates of the sows and gilts that you are considering. Let’s dive deeper into each of these characteristics.

1. Good Temperament

I've had very ornery sows and that’s not a lot of fun. I'm going to be really honest with you… A sow with a poor temperament can be very dangerous especially when you're trying to separate piglets during farrowing or weaning. Because of this, it is important to make sure that you have sows that are good natured and good tempered.

2. Body Structure

When looking at the body structure of potential breeding stock, pay specific attention to the loins, the vulva & teats, and the body size of each animal.


Look for sows and gilts with long bodies. A long body means a longer loin which will yield more pork chops, more bacon, and longer short ribs. Sure, you aren’t planning to eat your breeding sows, BUT those long-bodied genetics will get passed along to the offspring that will be used for pork.

Vulva and Teats

The vulva is the fleshy part around the vagina of the pig. You will want to make sure that the vulva of the sow or gilt is not immature (very small) or it will be a little harder for the boar to properly breed her. Select those females that have bigger vulvas overall to help reduce breeding and farrowing issues.

Teats are also very important to examine before purchasing a sow or gilt. Make sure that the pig that you're buying has at least 12 functioning teats. Note that not all breeds will have 12 teats naturally because they don't they don't give birth, or farrow, up to 12 pigs. Some breeds only farrow 8-10, so pay attention to the breed standard here.

Also check to be sure that the teats are not inverted, blunt, or coarse. If they are, then the piglets won't be able to nuzzle and nurse on that sow.


Watch the video: Top Breeding Sow Traits


Body Size

A couple of other things to consider are the height and weight of the animal. Don’t choose a sow or gilt that is very short, overly fat, or heavily muscled.

You want to make sure that your sows are on the leaner side, not emaciated, but leaner and smoothed out. This is because overweight sows and gilts won’t last as long in production.

Too much extra weight puts more strain on their joints and organs. This can cause breathing issues due to constriction and the lactation rate can also be affected.

Choose sows and gilts with moderate muscling and smooth elegant shoulders. Your gilts and your sows should not look like the boars. If your females have very masculine frames, that can negatively affect their fertility rates.

Weight can be lowered in pigs by reducing the amount of carbohydrates and calories in the diet and adding in extra forage for fiber content. Adding free choice minerals is another good idea to help sows and gilts maintain a healthy weight.

3. Genetic Birth Rates

It is important to know what the production level of the mother of your potential sow/gilt was.

Litter size passes on genetically so if the mother had high litter sizes, then it is probable that the daughter will as well.

Choosing an animal that is likely to produce on the high end of the breed standard in litter size allows for you to have a better operation in the long run. This is because you're getting more piglets for the same amount of feed that you would be feeding any other sow. Would you rather feed a sow in order to get five piglets or would you rather feed a sow the same amount feed for 12 piglets?

If the farmer you are purchasing from can’t provide documentation of the mother’s litter size, then you may not want to purchase from that particular farmer. Try to find one that keeps good herd records.

When Should You Start Breeding Gilts?

Gilts can reach sexual maturity around 6 months, but it is best to wait to breed until around one year of age. I know that seems like a while, but this time allows for the pig to mature physically to where she can farrow much easier.

Since gilts and boars are able to breed at six months, it is important to separate the boars at 3-4 months or around weaning time to avoid unintended pregnancies.

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