Christiaan de Jager -Winner -  SHARING Second runner up-  Technical - 2023

Christiaan de Jager -Winner - SHARING Second runner up- Technical - 2023

User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

Christiaan de Jager -Winner -  SHARING Second runner up-  Technical - 2023 

Hollard Insure and and Agri News Net - Young Agri Writers awards

Selection for teat number in sows: Luxury or necessity

With a growing world population, increasing food production is high on the agenda of many world governments. According to Dr. Frikkie Mare (Department of Agricultural Economics, University of the Free State) pork production and consumption leads the pack, with pork accounting for 32% of the world’s meat production. The South African market has also seen an increase in pork consumption due to the lower cost of pork compared to other meat types.

To achieve the goal of increasing food production, pork producers should focus on reducing piglet mortality. To increase piglet survival and performance, selection for a higher teat number in sows is a necessity.

In modern piggery, the number of piglets born alive tends to exceed the number of functional teats on the sow. This increases the risk of piglets not being able to get sufficient colostrum within the first 24 hours, leading to weak, slow-growing piglets. Without proper management in the farrowing houses, last-born piglets receive very small amounts of colostrum if the sow does not have enough functional teats.

 Sows with a higher number of functional teats tend to raise more piglets and have a higher weaning weight. According to a study done by the North Carolina State University, an increase of 1 functional teat improved piglet survivability by 3.25%, total litter weaning weight by 3.6kg, and increases the number of piglets weaned by 0.34 piglets.


When selection is done for teat number many factors need to be taken into consideration regarding the teats.

Selection for teat number can be done as early as five days old, as a gilts teat number is set after birth. The heritability of the teat number is reasonably high at 0,4. This means that pork producers should consider both the dam and the sire when selecting for teat number.

Careful consideration should be taken when selecting boars as they should have enough teats, to ensure a high teat count in their offspring. Boars can have between 8-14 teats.

For gilt selection, the gilt should have at least seven teats on either side of the midline. These teats should be well-positioned and functional. The teat sphincter should be seen at eye level, if not teats tend to remain inverted and nonfunctional.

Teat Functionality

The functionality of teats is also very important. Having nonfunctional teats is just as bad as having a low teat number. Teats are grouped into function teats, inverted teats, and supernumerary teats.

A functional teat has a well-developed and easily seen sphincter. An inverted teat is turned inwards and does not allow milk flow. Supernumerary teats tend to be smaller and shorter in size compared to functional teats.

Shorter teats, especially teats closer to the hind legs tend to be more difficult for piglets to suckle from, leading to lower weaning weights of piglets. Longer teat length is not a major factor, as piglets only struggle to suckle from shorter teats.

A study done by Lundheim et al; showed that there is a strong positive genetic coloration (0.8) between teat number and functional teat number. Therefore, the more teats a sow has the more functional teats she will have.

Selection for teat number in sows is very important for pork producers to ensure that enough pork is produced for a growing population with a higher demand for cheaper protein sources. Sows should be selected to ensure that they have enough teats to nourish and raise the higher born-alive number of piglets produced with every cycle.

The functionality of teats should be looked at to ensure that most of the teats on a sow are fully functional and produce sufficient milk. To achieve these goals pig genetic companies should work closely with the farmers on the farms to ensure the best possible genetics are on the farms, delivering the best quality pork to the consumers.


My name is Christiaan de Jager. I am a final year BSc Animal Science student at the University of Pretoria. Since a young age, I’ve been a person who loves to be in nature and around animals.  I developed my love for agriculture and animal science while working on our family farm in Potchefstroom. While studying I discovered that my real passion is in the swine industry, especially the breeding and genetics aspect of the swine industry. Writing popular science articles was one of my favorite tasks to do in my final year and I hope to write many articles in my career as an animal scientist.