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Our Tamworth sow was easy to work with and was very obvious about her heat cycles. I think that getting your timing right is probably the hardest part of AI. Mostly, timing your semen order appropriately so that it arrives within a day or two of when she goes into heat again. (21 day cycle)
Shipping cost is extreme. We chose Berkshire semen for a cross that worked really well with our pure bred Tam. It ran about $10 for 2 straws of Berk. (You inseminate twice, once 12 hours after you see her come into heat, and again 12 hours later.) The shipping has been $80. I have only used the mushroom looking insemination rod. International calls it the golden pig rod. Getting it to “lock in” is not hard to do and it will be obvious when it has happened because with her contractions the semen will be drawn from the tube, you should not squeeze at all. This process takes from 3-5 minutes. A sow truly in heat will stand quite still that long especially if you are applying back pressure as you work. (In our case Annalisa would sit on her back while I worked)
We would get two litters per year from our sow with AI, she farrowed and raised from 8-12 piglets per litter for us. Never had trouble finding homes for the a robust healthy pig. So for $180 worth of breeding expenses per year we would usually sell around $1500-$2000 worth of piglets. Keep two of the best looking ones for ourselves, and sell their meat as part of our CSA offerings.
Jared, depending on how many sows that need to be bred, and especially if their heat cycles are all very different then the shipping would add up quickly. It is said that the semen will keep for 6 days at 60 degrees. AI is a little risky because you have to be so diligent about watching heat cycles and if you order that semen it better be worth it! Even so I have not/will not keep a boar even for a few sows primarily because of the added management of keeping such a large potentially dangerous animal around my family. I know that temperament is largely animal dependent and there are some very sweet boars out there, but a friend of ours used to keep a “sweet” boar until one day when a sow was in heat and the farmer was working in the pen, the boar came from behind and gored him through the ham string. This would also depend on the type of infrastructure you have for feeding watering and housing these animals. We have never had a proper pig barn of any kind to safely handle and move the animals around. I guess being properly set up to handle and feed a boar would make quite a difference.
Farrowing time was always a pretty exciting community even for us. Pretty magical.