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Swine Physiology, Reproduction and Management

3 week old pig at Tidewater AREC swine program


The Tidewater AREC swine facility serves as a base for a research program with emphasis on reproductive physiology, breeding herd management and welfare. 

Professor Mark Estienne, Technician Kim Williams, and Ph.D. student Tyler Niblett
Principal Investigator: 
Mark Estienne
  • Kim Williams, Swine Physiology Technician
  • Tyler Niblett, Ph.D. Student        

The program is directed at solving problems in the Virginia and U.S. swine industries with applied and basic research approaches in topics related to improved reproduction efficiency of boars and sows in artificial insemination breeding systems, housing and management of breeding females, estrus synchronization, and nutritional approaches to improve reproduction.  Swine physiologist, Dr. Mark Estienne leads this research program along with collaborating scientists from Virginia Tech and other universities, Tidewater AREC, graduate students, and technical staff with funding support from commodity board, industry, and other competitive grants.  Selected examples of current research topics include:

  • Effect of supplementing selenium enriched yeast as a replacement for sodium selenite on the fertility of boars used in artificial insemination breeding systems.
  • Effect of supplementing selenium enriched yeast on the fertility of boar spermatozoa after the freeze thaw process for longer term semen storage.
  • Increasing efficacy of PG-600 for stimulating estrus in replacement breeding gilts.
  • The effect of supplementing organic trace minerals on sow productivity and longevity.
  • Adult reproductive performance of high- and low-birth weight boars.
  • Reproduction in boars fed diets containing dried distillers grains with solubles (a co-product of corn-based ethanol production).

Changes in the structure of the Virginia swine industry parallel those nationwide. Although most swine in Virginia are produced by Smithfield Foods, Inc., the world’s largest hog producer and processor, there remain many farmers with small sow herds, and a large number of youth raising pigs for 4-H educational projects. The needs of this diverse clientele differ greatly however we strive to provide a program that has benefits throughout the pork industry. Major educational events conducted annually are the Virginia Pork Industry Conference, and the Small-Scale and Niche Market Pork Production Conference. The swine research and extension programs at Tidewater AREC are highly integrated. For example, Mark Estienne is heavily involved in the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Assurance- Plus (PQA-Plus) program that has an extensive swine welfare education component. PQA-Plus certification of producers is required for swine to be processed at major packing plants in the U.S. Estienne regularly attend meetings of the Virginia Pork Industry Board, is the educational advisor for the Virginia Pork Industry Association, and is a member of the reproduction advisory committee that provides oversight for the Pork Information Gateway (PIG), which is the online outreach component of the US Pork Center of Excellence and is a community of practice in the national extension initiative.