Can you settle an argument with my neighbour?

I’ve been having an argument with a neighbour who used to be a fairly big breeder of pigs, back in the day, keeping 500 sows. He insists on calling my sow – who recently had her first litter – a ‘gilt’. This seems daft to me, because I’ve always thought that, once a gilt has a litter, she became a sow – just like a heifer becomes a cow, or an ewe lamb becomes an ewe. What do you think?

ALiz Shankland says: This can be a confusing one, and there will always be people with conflicting opinions. The generally accepted term for a female pig which has farrowed is, as you say, a

‘sow’. However, you will find that some people – often older folk who come from a commercial background – will refer to the same animal as a ‘first-litter gilt’ or a ‘farrowed gilt’.

Even among my own pig-breeding friends there are a few who adhere to the commercial term so, for clarification, I went to one of the top specialist pig vets in the country – Bob Stevenson, who is consultant vet to the British Pig Association and a former president of the British Veterinary Association. He told me: “Most recording systems assume the female pig is a gilt until she farrows for the first time. Complications are built in when people refer to a ‘first litter gilt’ or ‘farrowed gilt’. On inspecting big units of 200 to 1,000 sows, I’ve heard stockmen look at a farrowing pen and comment ‘She is a gilt’ – meaning, really, that she is a first-litter sow! I would always regard a pig as a sow when she has farrowed once.”

I’ve always held the same view and will continue to do so. Pig vets don’t come much better than Bob, so I’d take that as your answer!

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