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Blog posts tagged with 'hog slat®'

"SowMAX is just like having a bunch of mini feed bins!"

I recently caught up with Mark Daughtry of Prestage Farms in North Carolina to discuss his experience with SowMax farrowing ad lib feeders.  Mark is the Sow Production Manager in North Carolina and oversees about 55,000 sows.  He quickly corrected my terminology regarding the SowMAX.

“First of all…” Mark said, “the SowMAX is not a sow feeder.  It’s a feed storage device that delivers feed to the sow on demand. It’s like having a bunch of MINI FEED BINS sitting above the feeders ready to deliver fresh feed on demand.

I’m not sure exactly what you mean.”

Look I’ve been working with sow herds for 24 years in one way or another. The BIGGEST challenge I’ve faced in that time has been training farrowing house personnel to feed lactating sows.  It is extremely difficult to feed sows correctly by hand.

Sows are individuals and depending on their genetic makeup some sows are capable of eating much more feed on a daily basis than the group.  If you were to look at daily feed intake per sow, you would see a normal bell curve.  The bulk of sows will eat somewhere between 18-22 pounds per day, but some of those gals will eat as high as 30 pounds a day! Those are the sows that normally don’t get fed correctly with hand feeding.

If we decide that 20 Lbs is all we will ever feed any sow, then those high appetite sows are going to get short changed.  Those are the sows that will typically wean desirable large litters of heavy pigs.

I like to think of today sows as being like high performance race cars.  If we don’t fuel up a race car, it will not run.  Same with sows, they are capable of high performance as far as producing large numbers of pigs, but we have to get the feed/fuel in them.

How does that change with SowMAX?

SowMAX allows us to feed sows to full appetite without guess work.  Our feeding regiment in farrowing goes like this:

For three days prior to farrowing we feed four pounds of feed through the SowMAX.  We instruct the farrowing personnel to place two pounds, twice a day in the SowMAX hopper.  This gets them up each time and gets them accustomed to activating the trigger lever on the SowMAX.

After farrowing, we continue to hand feed for two more days.  On day three, we fill them up and monitor feed disappearance.

Feed disappearance? What does that mean?

Simply put it means that we fill the SowMAX up twice a day and look the amount feed that is gone in the hopper.  As long as the sow is eating over half of that amount we just fill it up again and go on.  We are only concerned with the sows that aren’t eating; that’s the one that’s having trouble and needs our attention.

“You know Mark, feed is very expensive; what about a producer’s concern that SowMAX may be getting more feed into the sows but that it’s also wasting more feed?”

Our experience has shown the exact opposite.  We waste less feed with SowMAX than hand feeding, and that’s easy to figure out.  With hand feeding if you guess wrong and put more feed in the feeders than she can eat, it spoils and you end up dumping it out.  The SowMAX delivers fresh feed to the feeders….on demand….whenever a sow is ready to eat.   Human judgment is eliminated….we don’t have to try and outguess mother nature. Again, we have those MINI FEED BINS sitting there ready to deliver feed whenever she’s ready to eat.

Do you have farms with other types of systems?

Yes, we have automatic systems where feed is dumped from drops into the feeders several times a day.  There is less physical labor but it really isn’t any better than hand feeding.  You still have to guess on the amount of feed each sow will consume each day.  Plus, as the systems get older they take more maintenance; it seems like we are always fixing a switch or replacing a motor. SowMAX works everyday; no timers, no motors, no switches, nothing to wear out.

With SowMAX, we fill the hopper, and we have some flexibility if something goes wrong.  In a dire emergency, we still have almost a day’s worth of feed storage at each hopper.  We have other systems that use a plastic tube and have almost no storage.  We have a lot more cushion with SowMAX than the other systems.

So with SowMAX, you are able to “fuel up the race cars” What differences do you see in performance?

First, there are only two things that make milk, feed and water.  A sow produces more milk per body weight than a milk cow.  Can you image a dairyman limit feeding a milk cow?  That would never happen, yet we expect a sow to produce to her full genetic potential on limit feeding!  SowMAX allows us to fully feed sows according to their individual appetite and they produce heavier litters.

Second, we quit condition scoring sows coming out of the farrowing crates that are using SowMAX.  Rarely would we have a Two score, they consistently scored as Threes. Because of their better body condition rebreeding is improved.

We have SowMAX in about 5,000 crates in North Carolina.  You can bet that any updates or remodels that we do in the future will include SowMAX feeders also.

To learn more go to on our web store.

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How Complicated Does Feeding a Sow Need to Be?

Ever notice how some people or companies try to make a job more difficult than it has to be?

Today I read an article about a show case farm with an  integrated computer system including electronic sow feeding.  There is a picture showing a hand held computer programming in the amount of feed that a sow will receive according to its body condition score.

Looks like a complicated and expensive system that isn’t any more effective than hand feeding.  If the computer based delivery system puts more feed in front of the sow than she can eat then it spoils and if the system puts in too little she doesn’t get the nutrients she needs for full milk production.

Compare this to feeding with a SowMAX.

You fill the hopper.  The sow activates the lever and eats as much or as little as she wants….whenever she wants……night or day.

No guess work.  No wasted feed.  No under fed animals.

In the same e-mag there was also an advertisement describing an ad lib sow feeder that looked a lot like the SowMAX.  One crucial difference though, it described the product as having a “timer that dispenses food at desired intervals over a 24 hour period”

Who’s desired time, yours or the sow’s?   Why would you use a timer and motor instead of a lever?   Most importantly this feeding dispenser still requires the operator to make a decision on the amount of feed that is metered out in 24 hours.

Again, same story. Feed too much and you’ll get spoilage or feed too little and the sows produce less milk.   The SowMAX system lets the sow make the decision instead of a human operator.

SowMAX is the best Ad Lib Feeder on the market today.

  • All stainless steel construction instead of plastic or nylon which means it lasts longer.
  • Simple mechanical activation instead motor and switches which means no parts to replace.
  • Eliminates guess work in determining the amount of feed which means the sows are always feed correctly.

To learn more about SowMAX go to

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Ad Lib Sow Feeder That Saves Feed?

SowMAX ad lib dispenser

Claiming an Ad Lib Sow Feeder can save feed may seem like a contradiction of terms.  How can allowing a sow unlimited access to feed save money on feed?

It’s simple really…sows are individuals with different eating and consumption patterns.  Some days they’re extra hungry, some days they’re not. Sows also prefer to eat at different times of day.

It’s hard to guess right when feeding lactating sows.  Feed them too much and they don’t eat it all…it spoils in the feeder and you end up dumping it out and wasting feed.

That’s the beauty of the SowMAX ad lib dispenser.  The hopper is filled, either by hand or from an overhead auger system, and the sow decides how much she will eat.  She eats to appetite without wasting feed…’ll see heavier litters; sows stay in better condition coming out of lactation and reduced feed waste.

To learn more go to

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SowMAX and Weaned Sows

A couple of weeks ago I received a call from Fritz Richards, Hog Slat’s national sales manager. Next time you are in North Carolina we need to run out to TDM #29 and take a look at the way they are utilizing a SowMAX feeder for feeding weaned sows.” It just so happened I was going to be in North Carolina the following week so I met Fritz at his office and we set out for the farm.  As we drove he filled me in.   “They have adapted 30 of the breeding row stalls with small bowl feeders and SowMAX dispensers mounted in the front gate.    It’s giving them a chance to compare the results against the other 70 stalls that are fed by the standard method.”   “What is the thinking behind that?" I asked.   “They know that if they can increase the energy intake of a sow from weaning to first service they will get production benefits.  The problem has been it’s tough to increase consumption without over feeding and wasting feed.  With the high cost of feed it’s more important than ever to feed sows correctly without wastage.”   “We have had several industry production advisors through the farm recently and they were very positive about what they saw.”   We showered into the farm and happened to catch the unit manager, Britt Hooper and his staff during their morning break.  Fritz spoke with Britt about his early experiences with the SowMAX test.  To view a video of his observations please go to

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Hog Slat Showcases Swine Equipment at EuroTier 2012

Billed as the world’s top event for animal production, EuroTier was held this past week in Hanover, Germany.  Producers from across the world attend EuroTier and for many it was their first exposure to American style production equipment as exhibited by Hog Slat.

We spoke with Hog Slat’s European sales manager, Kirk Brincks and asked about international producers comments concerning the equipment. He replied, “ Their general reaction is Hog Slat builds durable products that represent a good value.  They like the common sense design and how it is incorporated into the overall building layout.”

We asked Kirk what particular item was most popular, “ I would have to say the SowMAX dispensers.  All producers are facing high feed costs and feed saving equipment is important to them.  A customer, with sow farms in the Ukraine and Poland, has installed over 1,000 SowMAX units and is sold on the feed savings.”

He continued, “Another big item of interest is concrete slats.  We had many producers who see them for the first time and immediately comment on the quality.  I think people tend to view concrete slats as all being kind of the same, but we really do build a slat that will last longer.  Experienced producers seemed to recognize it very quickly.”

“And”, he laughed, “they always ask when are we building a slat plant near them”

Kirk finished up with, “The Grower Select line has caught on quickly. We have several production companies that we work with in identifying their high replacement items, providing them easy order forms and stocking those parts for quick delivery.   Grower Select just fits with Hog Slat’s basic philosophy of providing producers with a better value for their money……. in this case it’s excellent quality replacement parts that are priced right.”

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Factors Impacting Feed Conversion

Here’s a thought provoking list of 20 factors that effect feed conversion in swine production. We pulled this information 0ut of Jim Long’s Pork Commentary on Dec 17th which he cited Vern Pearson PhD and Mariela Lachman PhD.   As Jim noted with the cost of feed rising so dramatically, effectively utilization of rations has never been more important. Number one on the list?... feed wastage.

Hog Slat manufacturers feeders that have been proven to save feed for over 25 years.  Hog Slat dry feeders are the industry’s standard in finishing and nurseries barns, our wet/dry and round fiberglass feeder are additional options and we continue to pioneer sow feeding in breeding and farrowing with SowMAX. Choose Hog Slat hog feeders and feed system components for your next replacement, remodel or new construction project.  

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Sow Group Housing Conversion Answers Welfare Concerns

MB stanchions_3_edited-Large

Murphy-Brown’s North Division has completed one of the largest stall to group housing conversions in the industry. All the company farms have been converted to group housing over the last four years; 58,000 sows in total.  Keith Allen, General Manager of the North Division, discussed the conversion.


Keith, how did you decide on the type of group system?

“Long before we announced our conversion plans, we toured several types of housing systems abroad; ESF (Electronic Sow Feeding), Free-Access stalls and Pens with feeding stations or Stanchions.  We felt stanchions would require the least amount of cost and would be easiest to manage. The results four years post conversion support that decision.”


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Can you explain that a little further?

“Our production records validate improvements for any metric you can compare, pig/born, pigs weaned, etc.  The company farm production records rank better than most contract growers with stall gestation.  Sow mortally is neutral when compared to traditional stall operations in the system.  Fighting is less than we expected. Although we anticipated higher feed consumption in gestation, it also has remained neutral.”

Do you manage any other types of group housing systems to compare stanchions to?

“We have a large 10,500-sow unit with ESF feeding stations.  The repair and maintenance of the feeding stations requires a full time employee on this operation.  There is extra labor involved with the management of the animals.  Every day the computer system prints a list of animals that didn’t record entry into the ESF from the previous day.  An employee must locate those animals and identify why; Is she sick? Did she lose her tag? Is the feeding station in need of repair? Etc.”

“We just don’t have the extra labor costs or the maintenance in our stanchion type barns.”

“Free access stalls don’t have the same issues, but are more expensive to construct and present an increased opportunity of equipment failure with the gate latching mechanism.  There is also a chance an employee inadvertently or purposely could lock the animals in the stalls, and then we really don’t have loose pen housing anymore.”

How did the transition go on the farms?

“The transition was seamless; our employees now prefer stanchions to the stall system we used before.”


MB stanchion floorplan_edited-LARGE 

What are basic design requirements you used?

“We designed the pens to hold six sows with 24 square feet per animal; there is one feeding stanchion per sow.  The stanchions are 24” wide, and the dividers are 18” long.  The length of the divider is important; this divider should be long enough to extend past the shoulders. By extending past her shoulder, she feels more comfortable and secure when eating.”

“The facility design provides breeding stalls to house sows for 35 to 42 days post insemination.  After preg-checking, sows are grouped by size and moved to the pens.”

“An additional 3-5% of stalls have been added in the Group Housed gestation barns to provide critical care space for any animals that may require extra care or must be removed from the pens.”


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Have you made changes to the design over time since beginning the conversion?

“Yes, our original layouts allowed for 7% extra stalls in the group housed gestation barns…..we have since cut that back to only 3-5%.”

“We have also realized it is unnecessary to have an alleyway between rows in group housed gestation. We simply mount the stanchions and sow feed drops head to head. One of the things you lose with group housing is the ability to regulate individual feed intake… manage by pens, so there isn’t a lot of adjustment to the drops.”

“We also have added “Access Doors” to the pen dividers to make it easier to walk from pen to pen.  These consist of two posts set far enough apart that a person can squeeze through with a swinging solid divider on top to prevent the animals from attempting to go over the opening.  We no longer have to climb pen dividers to check sows.”

How have the changes been viewed by Smithfield’s customers?

“I have personally toured many representatives from large food companies through our remodeled facilities.  These companies made public commitments to securing pork from “stall-free” producers by a named date….they are listening to the consumer and committed to their long term Sustainability Programs.  In every case, the reps remarked how well cared for the animals seemed to be and remarked how clean the facilities were.   We think we have answered their concerns with this type of group housing.”

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3D Printer Shapes Livestock and Poultry Equipment

One of the newest tools utilized by Hog Slat’s engineering group is a 3D printer.  About the size of a small refrigerator, the 3D printer generates plastic prototype parts from computer generated 3D models.

A member of Hog Slat’s engineering group, Andrew Mitchell took a few minutes to show us how it worked.

Hog Slat 3D printer-1

“Here’s a feed line drop 
adaptor we designed for the Grow-Disk™ system,” explained Andrew as he pulled up a 3D model on his computer screen. “We needed to develop a model that would work on both metal and plastic tubes.  Since these tubes have slightly different diameters, we wanted to test the fit before proceeding with molding.”

Hog Slat 3D printer-2The cube in the screen represents the printer’s chamber, and the white image is a digital model.  The program divides the object into digital cross-sections and the printer builds the object in layers.   The printer makes multiple passes spraying very thin layers of plastic until the final shape is complete. 

Hog Slat 3D printer-3“You can almost compare the printer to a giant glue gun that accurately places liquid plastic down in precise layers,” Andrew said, “The process can take from several hours up to several days depending on the size of the item.  The maximum size part we can print is 10” x 10” x 12” tall”

Hog Slat 3D printer-4“We were able to take the prototype drop adaptor and test it on both the metal and plastic feed tubes. We made a few small dimensional adjustments and proceeded with complete confidence that the final part would fit as we intended.”

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Engineering Grower Select

Hog Slat's Frank Harris

Frank Harris, Head of Hog Slat’s Engineering Department, spoke with us about the development of the GrowerSELECT product line.

What is the focus of the GrowerSELECT product line?

Hog Slat wanted to directly source products to reduce final cost to the end user. We knew we could lower the cost if we reduced the number of people that handled a product, and in many cases improve the quality.

Replacement motors for fans and feed systems were the first items we started to direct source.  OEM Fan and feed auger companies do not produce their own motors; they all buy from the same motor companies.

We did not just buy off-the-shelf motors. We specified certain improvements in the motors based on our experience.  For instance, one problem according to our service department was motor shaft breakage.  We changed the shaft diameter blend radius and specified a hardened shaft of 1144 steel. We eliminated the problem.

Some people may have the perception that GrowerSELECT products are just cheap generic copies. How would you answer that?

I am not going to tell anybody that we invented feed systems or fans. However, in almost every case we are able to look at existing products and make improvements.

We evaluate every item developed for the GrowerSELECT lineup in three different ways.

First, from an engineering standpoint.

Can we make this product out of different material? Can we make it easier to manufacture?  Can we change the shape or size to eliminate problems?

Second, we evaluate from a repair standpoint with feedback from our service departments.

What are you fixing out in the field?  Where is this product failing?  What would make the product easier to service?

Third, and most importantly, we evaluate from our customer’s standpoint.

Is this the right product? Is this the right size?  What is giving you the biggest headache in using this product?   What changes would you make?

After gathering this information, we conduct the Process Failure Effect Mode Analysis or PFEMA.  Simply put, this is a logic method for determining why a product fails and how to correct it.  We document the process and can refer back to it when problems arise.

We then create detailed 3D computer models of the proposed product and subject it to computer-simulated stress tests.

Wait a minute; you can test the product before it is even built?

SowMAX feed hopper blog

Yes, here’s a good example.  When we first designed the blue plastic hopper for the SowMAX, we did not have a lip at the top.  When tested via computer simulation, we realized it might crack when impacted, for example if a feed cart banged into it.  We added the lip to strengthen the hopper and eliminated a potential problem.

Grower Select clear upper bootAnother example is the GrowerSELECT® clear upper boot, injected from impact-resistant polycarbonate.  It does not have to be as thick as plastic boots used by other manufacturers to have a superior breaking strength.  We were able to “tweak” the material thickness and avoid adding unnecessary additional cost to the end user.

The next part of the process is to send the drawings to a manufacturer and order sample parts to test against a quality control process known as PPAP or Production Part Approval Process.

Okay, what does that mean?

It is the same quality control process the automobile supply industry uses.  It means we take the sample products and measure them against the drawings we created.  We particularly identify those measurements most critical to the quality of the product.

Once we are satisfied that the sample batch is correct, we then order a small production run.  This first-production run is then field tested.  Our service group installs them on farms, and we monitor the results.

After field-testing is completed, we release the product to manufacturing.

Classic Flood QC checkBefore receiving those released products into warehousing, our Quality Control department conducts a series of QC checks.  Keith Riley, QC department head, creates an Incoming Inspection Document for each item.  This establishes a benchmark of quality checks used to test production parts.  This is not only done the first time we receive the product, but every time that product arrives from the manufacturer.

How many people work in Hog Slat’s engineering department?

Tim & Tim,blog

We have nine engineers and six Quality Control members. We have a good core of experienced engineers with several younger guys that we have hired…I like to say we have just the right blend of “gray hair” in the group. I have to say the younger guys have a great “toolbox” they bring with them. They are contributing with new technology.  A good example is the 3D printer we recently added to the department.  It is allowing us to perform some things we had not been able to do before.

What are future goals for your group?

Continuous improvement of products.  Just because we have a product developed doesn’t mean we quit trying to make it better.  We think we can improve motors. One of the principle reasons we are able to offer a two-year warranty is that we have such a very small percentage of motors returned under that warranty. But, we have some ideas that will improve these motors even more.

Hog Slat Supply ChainHog Slat has a very unique position in the industry.  We are responsible directly to the end user.  It is our own people installing and servicing the products we sell.  We cannot pass off problems to someone in the supply chain; we are the entire supply chain to the end user.

We have access to company farms to test new products.  We have feedback from our own service crews.  Our goal is to use these resources to improve product offerings and get those improvements to the market faster.

One of things I think we are the best at is identifying the optimum place in the world to manufacture a product.  We are not just throwing everything to Southeast Asia.  In fact, we have moved several products back to the United States. A good example is Classic Flood feeders, we started overseas but now these parts are molded in the U.S.

We do a lot of final assembly at our locations in Clinton, NC and Humboldt, IA.  We source items from the U.S. and other parts of the globe, bring those components in to test, then assemble the end products.  Using this process we have more control over the quality of the final product.

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Hog Slat Wrote the Book on Sow Group Housing

stanchion handbook cover

The handbook begins by comparing merits of different systems available for group housing. Complete with illustrated pictures of equipment and diagrams of building layouts, this 16 page handbook contains practical details needed to build new sow housing or convert existing stalls to group housing.

Stanchion pages

Download your FREE Stanchion Handbook



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