The planning of on-farm production and gilt supply chain is mainly related to the management of the mating unit, whereas much of the practical implementation of on-farm production is related to the management of the farrowing unit.

The farrowing unit is where the herds’ future gilts are handled for the first time. Making a little extra effort when managing the breeding litters and newborn gilts pays off when these are eventually entering the mating unit to be bred.

Focus and awareness of the breeding litters will pay off in the long term and ensure gilt quality.

It is a good idea to discuss with employees how to optimise the management of the pigs in the farrowing unit, especially the breeding litters.


Management of newborn breeding litters

Breeding litters are a herds‘ future and should be given a little added attention which can easily be incorporated into the daily routines in the farrowing unit.

There are several routines, that will be beneficial to carry out the first 24 hours after birth, and are easily implemented into the daily routines.


  • Colostrum provides newborn pigs with the first important energy as well as antibodies which will form the basis for their immune system.
  • The following are required to optimise the supply of colostrum for gilts:
    • the gilts get to the teat,
    • the gilts are given at least 12 hours to nurse the colostrum,
    • the sow is healthy,
    • the sow is well-immunised.
  • Split suckling, where the males of the litter are detained while the females are given time to suckle, is an effective way to ensure colostrum intake – remember to give the males nursing time too.

The primary focus of split suckling must be on ensuring that the gilts receive a sufficient amount of colostrum from their own sow while keeping the male piglets inside the creep area.

Once the female piglets have suckled for a while, the situation is reversed so the male piglets can suckle. The female piglets are warmed up in the creep area while they gather energy to suckle once the split suckling is completed.


  • The umbilical cord is shortened to 3-4 cm. Cauterise or cut the umbilical cord. If scissors/nippers are used make sure to disinfect these between each animal.

It is easy to shorten the umbilical cord to a length of 3–4 cm. Hold the piglet lightly, avoid squeezing its groin or stomach.

If nippers are used to shorten the umbilical cord, be meticulous about hygiene. Disinfect all instruments between each animal to protect against infection.
  • It is beneficial to protect the teats for the first few days with adhesive bandage as this will reduce abrasion and injuries to the teats.

Covering the teats with an adhesive bandage protects against abrasion in the first days after birth. Prepare suitable pieces so they are ready for use. Make a slit in the patch ensuring that this does not cover the navel.

Make sure to leave enough space for the navel. The bandage must fit tightly and stay attached for at least the first 24 hours, but keep it on as long as possible.


  • The newborn gilts will often be the progeny of first-parity sows with good maternal instincts.
  • Wherever possible, let the gilts stay with their own sow, i.e. do not include gilts if doing litter equalisation.
  • If by way of exception the gilts are moved, it is important to tag them with the sow’s name (by ear notching, tattooing or plastic-clip ear tag) to ensure correct pedigree information.

To provide the gilts with the best possible conditions they should be kept with their own sow. Having the correct records at litter equalisation is essential.

If it is necessary to move gilts from breeding litters, it is important to register where the gilts are moved to, to ensure pedigree information and that attention is paid to the breeding gilts.


  • Can be used provided that the herd has a documented need for this.


Tail docking can be a regular routine if there are issues with tail biting within the herd, thus compromising animal welfare and quality Make sure to follow local legislation.

  • Tail docking should be made with a cauterisation knife within the first 2-4 days of life, the following precautions should be followed:
    • The knife should be sufficiently heated – if the wound bleeds after tail docking, the knife is not hot enough.
    • Burn the tails instead of cutting them – spend as much time as needed to reduce the risk of blood poisoning.
    • The tails should be burned in an even line – if not, the healing process will be longer thus increasing the risk of infection.
    • Clean and disinfect the tail burner frequently and make sure it is burning properly.
  • Remove as little as possible- and no more than 50 % of the tail (local legislation might apply).
  • Make sure that all tails are cut to the same length to further minimise the risk of tail biting.

Registration of breeding litters after farrowing

Make sure that you have a fixed plan for the handling of breeding litters in the farrowing unit as this will optimise the number of good breeding gilts available at weaning. When the sows enter the farrowing unit, make sure to mark clearly which sows will have breeding litters to ensure these sows and their gilts receive the attention that they need, as these gilts constitute the herds’ future.

Coloured sow charts are an easy way to highlight where the breeding litters are. Hang up the sow charts when the sows enter the farrowing unit to highlight breeding litters.

When managing several different races, assign a colour to each race and use this for the sow charts. We recommend blue for LL litters and orange for YY litters. Place sows bearing litters of the same races near one another to make it easy to spot the location of the breeding litters.

Registration of piglets after farrowing: 

  • After farrowing, the number of female piglets in the litter should be registered.

Registration in the farrowing unit can be done on paper or in a hand-held terminal. For Nucleus Management, the information must be registered in the DanBred databank.

A hand-held terminal makes it fast and easy to register data and synchronise these into the herd’s software system.
  • Ensure pedigree by marking the newborn female piglets with either ear notching, tattooing, plastic-clip ear tags or a permanent ear tag – use the mothers’ number to increase traceability.

If plastic-clip ear tags are used, the ID-number can be assigned shortly after farrowing. This provides an overview of the number of female piglets and ensures registration of origin and races. Position the ear tag in the middle of the ear between the two blood vessels.

Ear notching can also be used to register the female piglet’s origin. Hygiene is important if ear notching is used; make sure the disinfect the nippers between each piglet.
  • Give the gilts the final DanBred ear tag with the individual ID-number no later than at weaning.

Give the ear tags no later than at weaning. At the same time take the opportunity to check the quality of the gilts. Make sure to use a good work table with plenty of space for equipment and ensure to register the assigned ID-numbers.

Position the ear tag in the centre of the ear, as this will minimise the risk of the gilts losing ear tags as it grows. Positioning the ear tag between blood vessels reduces the risk of blood blisters.

The first selection of gilts

Continuously assess whether the gilts will be suitable for further breeding.

  • Gilts which are clearly not thriving should not be used for further breeding females in the herd.
  • Gilts with teat injuries and hernias are not selected for breeding.

Remove gilts with umbilical hernias. Thoroughly check the gilts when inserting eartags, preferably just before weaning.

Continuously assess whether gilts are suitable for further breeding. Make sure to create a note which follows the gilts so it is easy to maintain focus, even after weaning.
  • Gilts with less than 14 functioning teats can be removed.

Count the number of teats when inserting ear tags. When the young female is held outstretched, all its teats are visible, the hindmost teats can though be difficult to see.

Holding the young female in a slightly curved position renders the hindmost teats more visible and which makes it easier to count.

Registrations for Nucleus Management

  • Give each gilt an individual ID-number, no later than at weaning.
  • Register the following information in the chosen software program and export the data to the DanBred databank:
    • date of birth
    • races (determined based on the parents’ master data)
    • the assigned ID-number
    • parents’ name and ID-number.
  • Following the registration indexes for the new breeding gilts will be calculated and available for download on a weekly basis.

New indexes can be downloaded every Thursday morning. Keeping the index up to date at all times in the herd software makes it easy to follow genetic development.

It is essential to follow the development in both the index and the herd’s efficiency. This is easy to do by synchronising herd software with DanBred’s databank.

My notes for Handling of GenePro


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