Every now and again, it’s a good idea for pig farmers engaged in husbandry to introduce some new genetics into the herd—or so I’ve heard. Up until recently, our farm has relied solely on the broad, muddy backs of a single breeding pair. This is inadvisable, as it puts the sole duty of litter-bearing on a single sow, and if something goes sideways—which has happened and happened to us—the result is a bacon-and-pork income shortage for a good many months. After briefly entertaining the idea of giving up our pigs, my farming family and I decided to get serious about improving our operation, starting with adding a second sow and bringing in a new boar.
For us, this meant selecting our heartiest gilt to hold back for breeding and bringing in a new boar. We picked Wennie to breed and made a drive to a family farm we know of to pick up an uncut male piglet.
Why a new boar, though? For starters, our old boar is Wennie’s father. (I can explain the practice and problems of line breeding at a later date.) But it’s also commonly accepted that a new boar can do wonders for a breeding program—even one as small as ours. A carefully selected boar can introduce a number of positive traits that serve the breeding bottom line.
We didn’t select ours too carefully, as we trust our farmer friend, but upon examining our new little guy, I wondered if I could pick the best boar from a field of oinkers. I’m certain I couldn’t, so I grabbed my favorite resource, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs (Storey Publishing 1997) by Kelly Klober, and started studying. The book is an invaluable resource for anyone who keeps pigs, from a few to hundreds, and I turn to it often. In its pages I found a few simple traits to look for when choosing a new boar.
You need a boar built to perform repeated feats of athleticism, and solid gams are a must. Avoid a hog with legs tucked too far in, knees that angle in (“knocked”) or any appearance that seems weird. A good boar struts solid on his confident legs.
This falls into a less scientific category, but some seasoned producers look for eyes that are set wide apart, as this may correlate with eventual body width. Other producers measure the distance from eye to foot, while still others pay a good deal of attention to jaw size.
Sexually potent boars are prone to open and close their mouth, producing both a chopping noise and a visible white foam around the lips. And for whatever reason, sows love it—it really gets them going. So a boar that chops a lot is worth checking out.
Finally, when choosing your new boar, you have to examine the key operation mechanisms: the sexual organs. Luckily, the entire apparatus is visible for easy inspection. Testicles should be properly shaped (not withered), positioned with one a bit higher in the scrotum than the other and somewhat even in size—and larger size is generally accepted to indicate better fertility. Look for a trim sheath positioned close to the belly, as penile sheaths that hang at a dramatic angle can increase chance of infection. And, of course, walk away from any boar that shows injuries past or present to the sexual organs.