Recently, Will, Kent, & Paul had the pleasure of attending the ALBC conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. For those of you unfamiliar with ALBC, their mnemonic stands for American Livestock Breeding Conservancy.
Their purpose? To preserve and promote heritage breeds of American livestock, very much like the farm animal equivalent of heirloom tomatoes. Their yearly conference is chocked full of interesting conferences and workshops, but what most intrigued us was their boar semen collection and analysis workshop, held in conjunction with the University in Raleigh.
While we generally still prefer using a more natural impregnation system, i.e. our boars, there are circumstances where Artificial Insemination (AI) would be useful. One example would be breeding young gilts (females sows) to full-sized boars, who would normally injure the female because of their great size and weight.
Also, because the genetic pool for our Old Spot pigs is so limited in the U.S. (in the 70's it was estimated that only 200 Old Spot pigs existed worldwide!), the prospects of importing semen from England is very appealing.
I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in the housing for the University's pigs. While I LOVED the slatted floors and roll up side walls of their building, great for cleanliness and air circulation, I was disappointed in their use of small stalls (which I have chosen not to show) and the fact that the hogs were never allowed out-of-doors on grass.
Some of the young gilts were held in larger group pens as shown above and below, which seemed much better, but this only representing a few of the animals on premises.
We started by familiarizing ourselves with some of the equipment used for semen collection, probably the most important of which is the dummy.
Here we see our massive boar circling, slobbering, smelling and just generally stinking up his 'date'. Anyone who has a romantic notion of how livestock animals breed, will be sorely disappointed. There is usually very little romance or foreplay involved, and things can get very rough.
The boar mounts the dummy and, well, with some assistance from a helping 'hand', a sample is collected.
Alternatively, a female 'in heat' can be used to start the process and then the 'hand of man' (or woman) steps in and finishes the process.
Believe me...it can be very intimidating to be squatting next to these massive and powerful creatures!
We hope to start using AI on a more regular basis on our farm to assist in preserving and protecting our wonderful Old Spot hogs from extinction!