Revolutionary AI technology FertiBoar increases semen quality in AI boars

Success in the barn starts with choosing the right genetics. But what constitutes good and correct genetics? If we look at the boar genetics on the market today, we can see that the primary focus is on outstanding production performance: Daily weight gain, meat abundance and feed intake play a key role, but robustness and vitality have also become much more of a focus. However, the right genetics are not limited to the production traits realised by the farmer, but also take into account the needs of the insemination stations, for example.

Is semen quality the sole responsibility of the AI studs?

Male fertility traits such as semen quality are often not considered. “Why should they?” the farmer may ask, “there are set quality standards and the AI studs ensure that there is enough good sperm in every insemination portion.” At first glance, this is completely correct. But what if the AI studs had significantly fewer failures due to semen deficiencies? What if they could purchase high-quality insemination sires that not only pass on excellent production traits, but also have very good semen quality? The capacities of the quarantines and production barns could be utilised more effectively, more genetically valuable boars would be in production and the overall quality level would increase.

A high level of quality is also to the advantage of the sow farmer, for whom semen quality also plays a role that should not be underestimated, as it has a significant influence on farrowing rates and litter size. Various studies describe an increase in litter size of at least 0.17 piglets born for every 10 % less abnormal sperm in the insemination portion. Assuming normal performance data [1] and a piglet price of €70, this corresponds to around €24/sow/year or almost €12,000 for a farm with 500 sows – due to the reduction in abnormal sperm alone. And even if there are quality standards and they are adhered to, such deviations are within the permitted range.

Fertiboar: Artificial intelligence takes genetic progress to a new level

Since the end of 2021, PIC has been using a specially developed technology based on artificial intelligence (AI) called “FertiBoar” with the aim of only offering the insemination centres boars with verified good semen quality.

FertiBoar: Scan at on-test

FertiBoar is the result of a research and development project lasting several years in cooperation with the Institut zur Fortpflanzung Landwirtschaftlicher Nutztiere e.V. in Schönow (IFN). To this end, ultrasound images of the testicles of over 1,600 boars were taken, once at the beginning of their performance testing and once at the end, i.e. during selection. Software analysed these images based on the different shades of grey and the arrangement of the image pixels. These provide information about the density and presence of various anatomical structures as well as anomalies such as oedema or abscesses. After delivery of these ‘sonicated’ boars to the insemination centres, they underwent the usual integration process including training for semen collection. The IFN determined the quality parameters from the ejaculates sent in. Once the information about the testicular structures was linked to the semen quality parameters, this formed the basis for training an artificial intelligence. The AI predicts the subsequent semen quality with a high degree of accuracy based on the ultrasound images. In this way, young boars with Fertiboar-based predictions of poor semen quality are identified and cauterised even before delivery to an insemination station and even before the first semen collection. Since the implementation of FertiBoar, over 3,000 PIC®408 boars have been analysed and the failure rate of young boars at insemination centres has been reduced by around 50%.

On the boar side, the insemination centres benefit from more reliable semen production and better planning in purchasing and sales, while sow farmers benefit from a genetically superior selection of boars with better semen quality and the resulting better fertility results.

FertiBoar further development: videos instead of images

PIC’s motto Never Stop Improving also applies here. The technology is constantly being developed further. In addition to improvements to speed up measurements, the processing of image material has been switched from images to videos. Automatic selection of the best images from the video material enables further optimisation of FertiBoar’s accuracy.

FertiBoar in action …

In collaboration with the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil), a further 1,500 boars of different breeds and age groups were also analysed last year using testicular ultrasound. The data collection as part of a doctoral thesis lays the foundation for routine implementation of the technology in other boar lines.

Robust genetics – implemented for practical use

Overall, the FertiBoar technology is a further building block in the overall concept of breeding work towards a more robust and reliable breeding pig. Other projects with the same goal exist in the form of camera-assisted foundation boning in sows and boars and the implementation of a semen quality breeding value in 2015.


7% stillbirth rate – 10% pre-weaning mortality – 2,4 litters/sow/year