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Boar Management


Robert V. Knox

, PhD, University of Illinois

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2021 | Modified Oct 2022
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In modern commercial breeding programs, most boars of high genetic merit are housed in boar studs, where they are managed for production of semen doses for use with artificial insemination. Boar studs are typically managed to ensure the highest levels of health and biosecurity. However, on smaller farms, breeding boars may receive insufficient attention in herd health programs. Regardless of the size of the operation, as with other food animal species, boars should be examined for breeding soundness before selection and use in a breeding program. Problems become evident when boars show lack of libido or inability to copulate, or if an increased number of females bred by the boar return to estrus ~3 weeks later. At a minimum, a breeding soundness evaluation Boar Management should include a history, general physical examination (including genital examination), semen evaluation, and behavior evaluation.

Selection in Boar Management

When selecting a boar for a breeding program, factors such as origination from a specific disease-free herd, performance, soundness and conformation, age of puberty, and other pertinent parameters related to reproduction should be considered. All boars o be used in a breeding program should, at a minimum, be seronegative for brucellosis Brucellosis in Pigs Swine brucellosis is a zoonotic disease caused by infection with Brucella suis. Infection may cause abortion, infertility, lameness, orchitis, and swelling of male accessory sex glands... read more , porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome is a viral disease first reported in 1987 in the USA and now found throughout North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. There are two distinct... read more , and pseudorabies Pseudorabies in Pigs Pseudorabies is an acute, often fatal, viral disease with a worldwide distribution. Swine are the primary host, but other species are also occasionally infected. Clinical signs include reproductive... read more (Aujeszky disease). In addition, all boars should be isolated and acclimatized for at least 45–60 days and be tested/retested for diseases naive to the herd before introduction into the herd. If involved in the selection process, boars from large litters that reach puberty early (5½–6 months) tend to produce highly productive daughters who also reach puberty at an early age. Performance parameters such as feed efficiency, backfat, and average daily gain are also highly heritable.

Skeletal conformation and examination for current or potential locomotor dysfunction should be assessed. Any unsoundness that may interfere with the boar’s ability to approach, mount, and successfully breed/ejaculate should be determined. Acute or chronic musculoskeletal conditions may elicit pain that causes the boar to appear uninterested in mounting. Boars are usually selected as breeding prospects at 3–6 months old. The genetic background of the boar should be consistent with the intended use. Selection of boars with heritable defects such as umbilical or inguinal hernias, cryptorchidism, rectal prolapse, and poor underlines can be avoided by careful analysis of the source herd production records.

History in Boar Management

A complete history should include the age and origin of the boar, source herd health, immunizations, previous disease problems and treatments, exposure to other animals and premises, as well as the time spent in isolation and exposure to the present premises and its breeding animals. It should also include, if available, a description of the boar’s previous libido, mating behavior, conception rates, litter size, and performance of relatives and other boars in the herd. For young boars, observations of sexual behavior may be useful.

Physical and Genital Examinations in Boar Management

A general physical examination should be part of every fertility evaluation. Attention should be given to body condition and conformation, including the back and legs, and locomotor function. Osteomalacia, osteoarthrosis, and arthritis, which may result in lameness and reluctance to mount or bear weight on the rear legs, are serious problems.

The testicles, epididymides, and scrotum should be examined and palpated for size, symmetry (< 1 cm difference in diameter), consistency, and pathologic changes. An appreciation of normal testicular consistency is necessary to detect subtle changes. The penis and prepuce should be examined for abnormalities during semen collection. Testicular size is directly correlated with genotype, age, and weight of boars between 142–282 days of age and 185–375 lb (84–171 kg) body weight. Testicular size increases until ~18 months of age; testicular growth and sperm numbers increase at the greatest rate between 5 and 12 months of age. Because age and testicular weight are important identifiers of early sexual development, boars should be ≥8 months old before use in a breeding program.

The testicles can be affected by diseases (eg, brucellosis, actinobacillosis) and are vulnerable to trauma by handlers, other animals, or as a result of injury from improperly designed or maintained facilities. The testicles should contain no nodules or soft masses. The initial reaction of testicles to trauma or infection is swelling, and if untreated, the longterm result is testicular atrophy, which can be diagnosed by increased firmness and loss of resiliency. Asymmetry, as a result of unilateral atrophy, is potentially deleterious to fertility, and semen evaluation may reveal azoospermia, oligospermia, asthenospermia, or morphologic changes indicative of testicular damage.

Behavioral Evaluation and Semen Collection in Boar Management

Semen collection allows evaluation of boar libido and ability to breed, and it provides a sample ejaculate for quality assessment. Boars are most commonly collected using a dummy or phantom; they can also be collected using a mature estrual female. Independent of the method of collection, boars exhibit precopulatory sexual behavior in response to visual and olfactory stimulation. The boar grunts or barks rhythmically, chomps jaws, salivates, and typically engages in head-to-head contact with the sow or dummy, followed by nuzzling her flanks or the side of the dummy to test for voluntary immobilization. These activities should be observed, because aberrant sexual behavior may result in infertility. Constant head mounting, a common problem with inexperienced boars when using live females, is prevented when using a dummy with an angled head position higher than the tail end.

Poor libido is likely caused by behavioral rather than endocrinologic problems. Fighting and domination by older boars and sows can inhibit libido in young boars. There are also breed and strain differences; the tendency to be timid, nervous, and nonaggressive can be influenced by selection in a breed over several generations and can result in boars with poor libido. Pain from genital lesions or musculoskeletal problems can have a strong negative effect. Libido can also be impaired by an unfamiliar environment, the presence of a feared person, or distractions such as available feed.

Once the boar has mounted, erection and protrusion of the penis occur as the boar searches for the vulva and tactile stimulation. Close observation is necessary to notice injuries and lesions of the penis as well as improper erection. Congenital and genetic problems include incomplete erection, penile hypoplasia, masturbation into the diverticulum (ie, “balling up”), and persistent frenulum.

There are basically two methods of semen collection in the boar—the gloved-hand method and electroejaculation. A third method using a water-jacketed artificial vagina is no longer in common use. Although satisfactory ejaculates can be obtained using either the gloved-hand or electroejaculation methods, the gloved-hand method is preferable and most commonly used because it is simpler and because reproductive behavior can be simultaneously assessed.

With the gloved-hand method, the boar is allowed to mount an estrous female or collection dummy and attempt to copulate. Boars used for artificial insemination are usually trained from the onset to mount a collection dummy. The boar should then be approached quietly from the rear without being touched or frightened. Preputial fluids are first evacuated using a double-gloved technique by massaging the prepuce to prevent contamination of the ejaculate. The outer glove is removed and discarded, and the back of the gloved hand is then placed against the ventral abdomen of the boar just cranial to the preputial orifice, and the penis is allowed to thrust into the gloved hand. Digital pressure is applied to the distal 3–6 cm of the penis. If properly stimulated, the boar will fully extend the penis and become very quiet. This is followed immediately by ejaculation. Once the tip of the penis is firmly in the hand and ejaculation has begun, it continues for ≥3–7 minutes. If the boar dismounts when the attempt is made to grasp the penis, he should be allowed to make several false mounts until he is aggressively attempting intromission again.

Most experienced boar trainers achieve a >96% success rate in training boars to mount a dummy and to ejaculate. Methods that can improve the training rate for boars include allowing boars in warm-up pens to watch other boars being collected, dripping semen or urine on the dummy, using pheromone sprays on the dummy, allowing a boar to breed an estrual female in the collection pen, or injecting a boar with prostaglandin.

A nervous boar may not allow the penis to be locked into the hand, even after several attempts. Semen can be collected from many such boars by allowing them to achieve natural intromission and lock the penis into the sow’s cervix to begin the ejaculation, then quickly retrieving the penis and locking it into the hand. The boar will continue to ejaculate, and the major portion of the ejaculate can be collected.

When collecting semen, temperature control and prevention of bacterial contamination are priorities. A prewarmed (37°C) thermos or large, foam cup is a convenient and economical collection vessel and can be used with a filter and disposable collection bag. The pre-sperm fraction, consisting of 5–15 mL of fluid, often contains some urine, cellular debris, and higher counts of bacteria and is ejaculated first; this should not be collected but allowed to fall on the floor. The boar then may ejaculate a small amount of gel, which is filtered out of the ejaculate by a double layer of coarse gauze (placed over the mouth of the collection receptacle or the filtered bag), because it coagulates into a semisolid mass that can interfere with subsequent evaluation of semen quality. The boar then ejaculates the milky to cream-colored, sperm-rich fraction, which may range from 60 to 150 mL. The final, sperm-poor fraction contains the largest volume of fluid and gel (150–250 mL). Boars can be collected for the sperm-rich fraction alone or for the entire ejaculate for processing. However, care should be taken to let the boar complete the ejaculation process, voluntarily withdraw the penis from the hand, and dismount, to avoid boar frustration with the procedure.

Semen collection by electroejaculation is performed infrequently and only on a highly valued and anesthetized boar. An injectable anesthetic that will allow for 15–30 minutes of general anesthesia is recommended. The rectum is cleaned out using a lubricated hand, and a lubricated rectal probe is inserted. The penis is then exteriorized with the aid of Bozeman sponge forceps and grasped with a surgical sponge wrapped around the penis 5–10 cm distal to the glans penis. Electrostimulation of the boar is performed as in the bull or ram, with the ejaculate collected in a filtered, clear, plastic bag that envelops the glans penis.

Semen Evaluation in Boar Management

Standard tests used to evaluate boar semen include sperm motility, morphology, concentration, total numbers, and ejaculate volume. The importance of sperm quality to fertility when used for artificial insemination (AI) or natural breeding requires evaluation efforts. Larger boar studs that specialize in production of semen doses for AI typically invest in equipment that can provide accurate measures of ejaculate quality with minimal time. These can include computer-assisted sperm analysis (CASA) machines, microscopes with heated stages, cell counters, and densitometers. However, the most sophisticated and expensive equipment is not a requirement for production of quality AI doses. After collection, the ejaculate should be protected from dusty air, changes in temperature, osmotic pressure, and pH during handling and analysis. All equipment and materials that come into contact with semen should be clean or new and warmed to 35°C–39°C.

Sperm motility should be evaluated as soon as possible after collection. Estimating sperm motility in an ejaculate by examining the mass activity or swirl motion of a drop of semen on a slide using a low-magnification microscope is of limited value for commercial production of semen doses; however, it can be used to pass an ejaculate for use on small farms. Gross sperm motility is the next best option; it is best estimated on prepared samples in which a monolayer of individual sperm can be visualized using light microscopy at higher magnification. To do this, a 5–10 mcL drop of semen is placed on a prewarmed slide and overlaid with a coverglass. Sample motility is then subjectively estimated to the nearest 5% by viewing several random fields under 20× magnification.

Sperm morphology can be a valuable indicator of fertility potential, especially in those ejaculates with a high percentage of abnormal sperm. This assessment can be made using a quality light or phase-contrast microscope. When using bright-light microscopy, stained samples are necessary to provide adequate contrast to evaluate sperm morphology. When using higher resolution microscopy (ie, phase-contrast, differential interference contrast), glutaraldehyde or buffered formalin preserved samples can be used. A minimum of 100 (preferably 200) sperm should be assessed for morphology of the head, midpiece, and principal piece (ie, the tail distal to the midpiece). Sperm can be categorized into three groups: normal, sperm with abnormal heads, and sperm with abnormal tails (midpiece, principal piece, including cytoplasmic droplets). The most common sperm abnormalities include proximal and distal droplets and coiled or bent tails. Sperm agglutination can often be observed in a sample and may be an indication of dead or damaged sperm or evidence of bacterial contamination. In cases in which fertility problems are suspected, samples can be examined further, abnormalities classified as major and minor, and the acrosome morphology assessed.

Several techniques are available to determine sperm concentration in a filtered boar ejaculate. Assessing visual opacity of a raw ejaculate by direct examination can provide a crude, subjective, qualitative estimation of sperm concentration; however, this approach has limited accuracy. Many who perform this type of assessment simply dilute the ejaculate 1:4 to 1:5 to create usable semen doses. However, more precise determination of sperm numbers is needed to achieve the required number of sperm in the AI doses and to extend the use of the sire for greatest genetic impact.

Analytical determination of sperm concentration can be performed by measuring opacity via a calibrated (spectro) photometer on a diluted semen sample. It is essential that the photometer be calibrated for boar semen. Even with a calibrated photometer, estimates of sperm numbers may be ±30% from that of the actual concentration. Large errors may be attributed, in part, to improper sampling or dilution technique, sample contamination, and the inherent opacity of the secretions of the accessory sex glands present in the boar ejaculate. Photometric readings can also be inaccurate if the number of sperm in the diluted sample is too low or too high, leading to readings outside the calibration curve or optimal operating range.

A more direct method to measure sperm concentration is with a hemocytometer or counting chamber and a microscope. In this method, concentration can be determined by diluting a portion of the filtered ejaculate to a 1:200 ratio—most easily done using a disposable, diluting pipette system. The hemocytometer should be charged, and the charged unit allowed to set for 5 minutes, so that the sperm settle into one visual field. Using microscopy, a sperm count is performed and calculated as would be done for an RBC determination. Determining sperm concentration using a counting chamber is tedious and time consuming, making its use on a routine basis impractical in most commercial operations. More sophisticated methods use a cell counter or a CASA machine, which provide quick, accurate counts albeit at higher cost.

After calculating sperm concentration/mL, total sperm numbers in an ejaculate can be calculated by multiplying the sperm concentration by the total volume (in mL) of the gel-free ejaculate. Ejaculate volume is most often measured using a scale and determining the weight of the ejaculate (with 1 g equivalent tο 1 mL) or by use of a warmed measuring apparatus (eg, graduated cylinder, disposable plastic measuring cups). More frequently for commercial boar studs, computer-automated semen analysis systems are being used to objectively determine sperm motility, morphology, concentration, and total number.

Interpretation of Findings

Semen values can be affected by frequency of boar use, age of the boar, environment and season, disease or health status, level of nutrition, genotype, and method of sperm cell evaluation. Importantly, measures below expectation may be associated with breed differences, notably for onset of puberty, libido, mating ability, and conception rate. Therefore, boars that do not have acceptable semen values are not necessarily subfertile or infertile. Spermiograms can change dramatically over a short period of time, and boars should not be culled on the evaluation of a single ejaculate. When problems are identified with the ejaculate, repeated collection over days is recommended to clear out sperm in the epididymis, with the boar allowed a week to recover before another evaluation.

Environment can affect fertility over a short period of time, primarily because of disturbances in the thermoregulation of the testes. Boars exposed to cold or hot environmental temperatures may have abnormal spermiograms for ≥7 weeks after the insult. The most common issues arise with boars that are heat-stressed during the summer, with some problems extending into early fall. Exposure to very high temperatures may result in abnormal spermiograms for a longer period of time or may even lead to permanent spermatogenic disruption. Any disease that increases body temperature and thus disrupts thermoregulation of the testes also has the potential to cause temporary sub- or infertility. Most of the issues related to short- or longer-term heat stress affect sperm morphology, motility, and number produced for a duration of weeks related to the duration of the stress.

Guidelines for Boar Evaluation in Boar Management


Ideally, libido, mating ability, semen quality ( see Table: Suggested Spermiogram Values for Breeding Boars Suggested Spermiogram Values for Breeding Boars Suggested Spermiogram Values for Breeding Boars ), and breeding results (conception rate and litter size) should be considered in boar evaluation. The duration of spermatogenesis and spermatozoa maturation is ~51 days in the boar. If a boar produces an ejaculate of low or marginal quality when examined in vitro, additional ejaculates should be assessed at 1- to 2-week intervals to ascertain whether quality has improved over time. Valuable boars with spermiograms that do not improve over 2–3 months are unlikely to ever improve and should be culled. Boars with azoospermia on two complete ejaculates or that are unable to achieve complete erection should be culled immediately. Those that have penile lesions or blood in the semen should be sexually rested for ≥2–3 weeks and reevaluated. For boars with persistent frenulum or that habitually masturbate in the diverticulum, surgical correction is recommended; however, the progeny should not be kept for breeding, because these conditions are most likely heritable. All results of the fertility examination must be considered in relation to age, disease history, environmental stress, prior breeding usage, breeding system, and the techniques of semen collection and handling.

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