Comprehensive gilt selection is critical to the long-term success and productivity of the sow herd. Poor gilt selection is almost impossible to overcome with later management actions in the breeding herd.

What to Evaluate

Feet and leg problems are the second largest reason for sows leaving the breeding herd. Replacement gilts should be able to move freely and get up and down easily.

Gilts should have a good base width. Animals with a narrow base should be culled. Cull animals with buck-kneed front legs. Gilts with soft or weak front pasterns may not be a problem if weakness is moderate. cull1
Do not keep animals with straight pasterns on the rear legs. Gilts with sickle hocked rear legs should be culled. Weak or soft pasterns are OK if the leg is properly designed. cull2
Avoid gilts that are splay footed or pigeon toed on the front legs. Cull animals that are cow-hocked on the back legs. rear legs

Good feet are important for a good distribution of the weight and avoid a lot of problems for the whole life cycle of the sow.

Large feet are desirable and the feet should be out on all four corners with adequate width between them.

Toes should be big, evenly sized and spread apart. If the weight is concentrated on a smaller surface area there is a greater risk of cracked hooves and foot pad lesions. Toe size differences of ½ inch or more are undesirable.

Check for cracked hooves, foot pad abrasions and other injuries.


The underline of a gilt or sow is a very important part in reproductive soundness. The following criteria should be followed;

Gilts should have seven or more functional nipples on each side.

The nipples should be spaced out and well developed and start far forward on the underline.

Animals with blind, inverted or pin nipples should be culled.

  • Pin nipples are underdeveloped and replace functional nipples
  • With an inverted nipple the end of the nipple is held up in the body of the mammary gland.

Reproductive problems can often be predicted by evaluating the external genitalia.

An infantile or extremely small vulva is often a sign that the internal reproductive tract is immature or under-developed.

Gilts with a small vulva should be avoided as these animals could have difficulty mating or have farrowing difficulties.

Gilts with tipped-up vulvas may be difficult to get bred and are more prone to metritis and cystitis.

Avoid animals that have injuries to the vulva. Even if they heal they may impair mating or cause farrowing difficulty.