Pity the modern boar: He roams the pen for a sow that's ready to breed and when he's about to, er, take action, a farmer appears with a catheter in his hands. The poor guy has been replaced by artificial insemination. That's because nearly 90% of today's pig farmers inseminate sows artificially, up from 2% to 4% in the 1980s, a swine-breeding specialist tells Pacific Standard. Why the change? Well, a single boar ejaculation can impregnate many sows, and the resulting piglets will be pretty similar. "If we sit down to dinner at a restaurant, both order a pork chop and yours is twice as big as mine, I might go away unhappy," a researcher says.
It's also easier to have FedEx or a retired farmhand transport a bag of semen than to move boars between big, modern, specialized farms, where sows and piglets are kept in separate facilities; now one boar can do the job at a 300-sow farm that would have previously required 20. One downside: A study found that sows in Spain were failing to reproduce because of chemicals in Chinese-made semen-storage bags, National Geographic reports; the bags were replaced and the pigs' fertility rebounded. On a more positive note for pigs, consumer pressure is leading big US pork producers to put pigs in roomier, shared pens instead of small spaces where they have no room to turn around, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. (Now find out why some sows drink "piglet smoothies.")