Domesticated pigs have been bred for many years using several different methods. Each method has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. These methods are hand-mating, pen-mating, pasture-mating, artificial insemination (A.I.) and embryo transplant. All of these methods can be used when a gilt, a young female pig, is at least 10 months old or on a sow, an older female pig, and have to be in heat before any of these methods have the desired outcome of offspring. Male pigs or boars are mature at 8 to 12 months old and can be used in all the methods as well.
Hand-mating pigs occurs when one sow or gilt is mated or bred to one boar. The advantages to this method of breeding pigs are that it allows the breeder the opportunity of choosing which pigs are bred and eliminates any social competition. This method also allows plenty of time before the boar is to breed the next sow or gilt which is important to the boar’s fertility rate. The disadvantage to this method of breeding pigs is that it requires quite a bit of the person’s time and effort.
Pen-mating pigs occurs when several sows are brought to the boar’s pen to be bred. The advantages to this method of breeding pigs are that it does not require as much time from the person handling the situation as other methods does and often times the sows are more stimulated by being moved to the boar’s pen than the opposite. The disadvantage of pen-mating pigs is that it is not the most efficient use of the boar as sows may be bred after they have already conceived and there is a larger chance of loss of pregnancy due to “social competition.”
Pasture-mating pigs is just as the name assumes, it is when pigs, both sows and boars, are allowed to roam freely in pasture situations and let nature take over. This is the least controlled method of breeding pigs and is not the most widely practiced, especially in smaller operations.
Artificial insemination (A.I.) occurs when the sow or gilt is bred using semen collected from a boar. The boar is not involved in the mating in any way other than donating his sperm. The handler or breeder of the pigs will have to be aware of the techniques related to performing A.I. on a gilt or sow. This method is one of the most controlled methods available. The only uncontrolled step in this method is the date of the gilt or sow coming in heat. Advantages other than control include the breeder having the opportunity of upgrading their herd without actually purchasing a boar. The disadvantage would be the cost that can be associated and that the breeder will have to learn the technique required to accomplish this method.
Embryo transplant occurs when the sow or gilt has a viable embryo transplanted into its uterus. The technique for this method requires the breeder to be knowledgeable in embryo transplant, but luckily it can be done without any surgery.