The size of individual sow farms continues to increase; just a few years ago 2,400 head units were considered large, but new sow farms under construction this year range between 5,000 to 14,000 head in size.
Designing the central production facility into two or three larger buildings has many advantages including smaller land requirements, less underground utilities to bring to the site, shorter roadways to build and maintain, fewer walkways between buildings and less linear footage of exterior building walls.
Because of increased pig capacities and the desire to minimize the number of buildings, it was necessary to increase the buildings widths up to 190 feet. Instead of the 4/12-pitch roof used on standard farm buildings, these jumbo-wide facilities utilize a two-piece rafter with a 1/12-pitch roof line resting on a center support wall in the middle. Almost 6 feet high at the heel with a center height of 13 feet, the rafters are designed more like a large floor joist. The outside appearance resembles a steel frame building more than conventional wood framed structures.
Totally slatted flooring is a common feature of newly constructed B&G buildings. While past layouts consisted of a solid laying area with slat sections in the rear of the pen or stall only, new construction plans incorporate slats over the entire floor with stainless feeding troughs fastened in place. This arrangement allows long-term flexibility to reconfigure the pen layout in the future if needed.
Group housing with stanchions is the predominant type of housing under construction this year. Largely through trial and error, the industry seems to have settled into pen configurations containing eight to twelve sows. This pen size permits closer grouping by size and condition and promotes easier visual inspection.
Whether the production system chooses gestation stalls, stanchions, or ESF, most equipment is specified with hot-dipped galvanized equipment instead of painted finish. The extended equipment life provided by the galvanized finish makes this an economical business decision.
One advantage reported with stanchion systems is longer equipment life resulting from moving the water away from the front of the stanchions. Locating a cup or swinging water pipe with nipples in the center of the pen reduces the deterioration of feed pipes and stall fronts by minimizing water contact with these areas.
Jumbo style layouts permit designing a double farrowing building with an extra wide 8-foot center alleyway to aid in animal and people movement between rooms.
Almost every new construction project increases the length and width of the farrowing crates and creep area from the standard 5′ x 7′ footprint up to 6’ wide by 8′ long, with some systems choosing 8’6″ long crates. Longer framed sows and reduced piglet crushing rates from using wider pens have driven this trend. Again, the equipment will have a galvanized finish with a combination of cast iron, TriDek, or plastic slats for flooring choices.
Most production systems will incorporate some provision for ad-lib sow feeding. Besides reducing farm labor, ad-lib sow feeding is the most efficient method for feeding individual sows to reach full milk production potential. The type of systems can range from electronic transponder metering devices to sow activated hopper type feed dispensers.
Projects of this size require builders with an expanded skill set. A builder must be able to provide professional project management, understanding of regulatory issues, and increased insurance coverage. It is also critical for any construction firm undertaking projects of this size to have sufficient financial backing and the ability to manage large cash flows.
For more information about Hog Slat’s construction projects and swine production equipment offerings, contact your nearest sales representative by clicking here.
Here’s another selection from the 1960 edition of The Yearbook of Agriculture on the latest trends in farrowing.
Caption in yearbook:
In this minimum-stress pen, the shape of the guardrail encourages the sow to lie with the teats toward the pigs. The pigs stay where it’s warm – under the heat lamp and behind the guard.
How about this for Ad Lib feeding? An overhead auger delivers feed to the farrowing pens. No carts or scoops are needed.
And finally, double-decker farrowing crates! I saw one of these set up in Red Oak, Iowa years ago.
From the yearbook:
Hogs in double-deck, all steel, cage-type farrowing stalls. The pigs are transferred after weaning. Manure is removed by mechanical drags.
Hog Slat manufactures a complete line of farrowing equipment for new construction or remodeling an existing facility. Our SowMAX ad lib dispenser feeds lactating sows 24/7 while reducing farm labor. See more at www.hogslat.com or call 800-949-4647.
Hog Slat’s newest feed drop hangs straight under the feed pipe to reduce twist. Available in two models; HSSD60C for mounting on Grow-Disk metal pipe or HSS55DC for model 55 PVC pipe.
The Center Drop is molded from UV stable polypropylene to prevent damage from sunlight and cold temperatures. An open-top design permits direct installation on feed pipe and a large access plug allows access to inside of the feeder. A plastic clip for record cards completes the exterior features.
The Center Drop features positive open/close shutoff.
Large adjustment dial permits single-hand regulation feed settings from one to eight pounds.
Nylon wheel reduces wear on lifter cord and the weighted ball securely seals bottom opening.
To order go to http://hogslat.com/hog-slat-center-drop-sow-feeder-8-lb
Hog Slat’s Drop Tube Assembly completes the installation to a metal pipe. Available in 2″ or 3″ models, the flared top reduces feed spillage and provides a flexible mount to sow drops.
The main objective of this study was to collect lactation and rebreeding data from sows fed with SowMAX self feeders opposed to sows that were hand fed. The secondary objective was to measure the amount of labor required to manage the sows using each type of feeding system, specifically during lactation. Two farrowing rooms were observed in this study. One-half of the farrowing crates in each room were retrofitted with SowMAX feeders. Farrowing occurs every other week at the Swine Educational Unit (n=24 sows per group). At the present time, data has been collected from 36 sows utilizing SowMAX feeders and34 sows that were hand fed.There were significant interactions between season (winter versus summer) and feeding strategy (SowMAX versus hand feeding) for both sow and piglet performance and sows’ daily feed intake patterns. Consequently, the data is presented seasonally. Sow and piglet performance during lactation is shown in Tables 1 and 2, while sow daily feed intake patterns are shown in Figure 1 and 2. Tables 3 and 4 contain sow rebreeding performance and baby piglet death losses, respectively. (see complete article online including tables) There were no significant interactions between seasons and feeding strategy for this data, therefore the means in these tables were averaged across seasons.
The data in all the Tables are the mean values and the standard errors. The last column in each table is the p value, which is a measure of how different the means is statistically. In a general sense, the p value can be thought of in the following manner. If the experiment was repeated 1000 times, then one would expect the same result as indicated by the p value due to chance. For example, in Table 1 the p-value for total feed intake is 0.043. Sows fed with the SowMAX feeders consumed 17.2 lbs. more feed during lactation compared with those fed by hand. What this means is that there is less than 5% chance that this difference is simply due to chance and random events and a 95% chance that it is due to the SowMAX feeder. Conversely, the body weight of sows after farrowing has a p value of 0.671. What this means is that there is more than 50% chance that the differences observed are, in fact, due to chance or random events and not related to the way they were fed (SowMAX versus Hand Feeding). The p values in bold are those that are less than 0.05 that is considered to be highly significant in the scientific literature. In other words, there is a 95% probability that the current difference is due to the feeding system. The p values in bold italics are ones with p values between 0.05 and 0.20. These are considered important trends in scientific literature. Usually what happens with trends is that as more data is collected (more observations) then their p values move closer to 0.05.
In general, both total feed intake and daily feed intake appear to be superior for sows being fed with the SowMAX feeders. This was predominantly true during the summer months. Daily sow feed intake was consistently greater during the summer with the SowMAX feeders after the first week of lactation compared to hand feeding. This was also true during the winter months due to a more consistent feed intake pattern over the entire lactation period, with less variation from day to day. During the summer, sows had a similar pattern of daily feed intake with both feeding systems. However, sows in farrowing crates with a SowMAX feeder simply ate more. In contrast, during the winter the increase in feed intake for sows with the SowMAX feeder was due mainly to the lack of several transient periods of decreased feed intake which were prevalent when sows were fed. In this study, there was less feed wastage on a dry matter basis with the SowMAX feeders. Additionally, SowMAX feeders required less labor and maintenance (cleaning) by employees that fed the sows, especially during the summer months when sow water consumption is high.
The increased feed intake during lactation resulted in better pre-weaning weight gain by the piglets. There were no differences in piglet mortality or rebreeding performance between treatments. A rather interesting observation was the lower body temperature during the last week in lactation of the sows utilizing the SowMAX feeders. This was even more prominent during the summer months and most likely is the factor responsible for the increased daily feed intake in these sows. This is most likely due to them being able to regulate their feed intake during the day. It has been shown that after consumption of a single large mealthe core body temperature increases, compared to intake of the same amount that is distributed evenly over a longer period of time. It appears the sows actually do regulate their feed intake, at least in part, based on the temperature of the ambient environment.
To obtain a copy of the full report contact us at: email@example.com
As the swine industry searches for alternatives to stall gestation, another option has emerged and is in the process of being refined. Stanchion Housing refers to short stall-like dividers that are added to open pen gestation to separate and protect the animals as they are fed. It is a refinement over traditional open pens where sow are fed on the floor and group size must be limited to reduce fighting.
To date all the systems have been designed with standard gestation stalls in which the sows are weaned and remain until they are bred and preg checked. Typically this would be about a 45 day inventory of the total sow numbers.
Looking at the total number of animals in a breeding group, a decision can be made on total numbers of sows per pen. Current stanchion systems range from 10 head per pen all the way up to over a hundred. Many producers choose to break a farrowing group into two or three different pens as this allows for grading and sorting weaned animals by body score. Placing sows in similar groups reduces fighting and allows for uniform feeding.
After total number of sows per pen is determined, the next design consideration is the amount of square footage per animal. Current EU welfare regulations require 24 sq ft. and some producers have chosen to follow that guideline, but systems exist that range from this level all the way down to 17 sq ft./sow.
Two critical design elements have proved themselves in the existing layouts. First, long narrow pens are preferred as this prevents a boss sow from blocking feed stanchions. The second design feature is placing the stanchions head to head in the center of the pen rather than placing them along the alleys. Because the stanchions are not in the alleys, the sows can be viewed from the rear during feeding for problems. It also allows for easier animal movement in and out of the pens as the gates are not part of the stanchions. In addition, the number of feed lines needed is reduced.
The first stanchion systems featured trickle feed equipment where the feed slowly dribbled in front of the sows at meal time, the idea being a slow placement of feed in front of the sows would hold them in the stalls and prevent boss sows from “wolfing down” their feed and moving up and down the line stealing feed. In practice, the additional cost and upkeep of a trickle system did not justify its use and has been omitted on new installations. Current systems use standard feed drops that dump the entire ration into stainless steel troughs or on a solid concrete floor.
Equipment used in a head-to-head layout consists of stanchions that are 40” tall and 19” long. These dimensions protect the face and ears of the individual sow from aggressive pen mates. Ideal width has been determined to be 20” as this prevents other sows from crowding in to steal feed. Early systems used solid dividers; as we gained more experience with head-to-head systems, the use of open dividers was adopted. The Hog Slat equipment used to configure this layout is an adaption of our standard gestation stall which has been used throughout the industry for over 30 years. The stanchions are constructed of solid horizontal rods with angle top and bottom rails, the entire unit bolts together with galvanized floor spacers and double top spacers for added stability. This style of stanchion fits completely with the standard 40” gestation penning used in the rest of the pen layout. The result is a well-designed system that goes together without a great deal of “field fabrication”. AquaChief cup waterers are added at the rate of one per 11 animals to provide fresh water.
Many of the stanchion systems are remodels, the layout of which has to be adapted to existing slat /solid configurations. If building new projects most producers opt for using total slats as this allows for more flexibility in the event of changes in the welfare regulations.
Stanchion systems require a high degree of stockmanship to operate successfully. Boss sows must be culled ruthlessly and individual care of animals is more difficult than standard stall systems. However, for many production systems, stanchions are a better alternative than Electronic Sow Feeding. Stanchions allow group housings of animals without the costs and high maintenance associated with ESF stations.
For more information please contact your local Hog Slat rep or contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the food industry responds to animal welfare issues, many producers have started to consider alternative options to stall-based gestation systems. We took a few moments to speak with Hog Slat’s national sales manager, Fritz Richards, about group housing systems.
Can you describe the options available and the advantages and disadvantages of each?
Hog Slat first took a hard look at the Electronic Sow Feeding or ESF systems. Sows are housed as groups and fed in stations that identify sows individually by means of RFID ear tags. This type of equipment seemed to offer slight advantages that would offset some of the management tools which producers would lose going to group housing from stalls. Such as the ability to feed animals as individuals and maintain dynamic farrowing groups. We looked at both domestic and international systems, touring and speaking with experienced growers. There were some differences that came to the forefront.
This type of system is a major paradigm shift for US producers. The US industry has developed a very straight forward system of handling gestation sows. Sows are weaned into a stall, bred there and sow condition is managed by individual feeding. ESF is a completely different management style. First, the animals must undergo a two to four week training process with up to five percent of them eliminated as untrainable. Second, because computers, scanners, RFID tags and low voltage lines are necessary for ESF equipment a highly trained staff is required to operate the system successfully. With many production systems experiencing high turnover of farm staff, it becomes very difficult to perform the necessary maintenance and training.
Where do you see ESF working best?
Farms where the owner works in the unit every day and is able to maintain and repair the equipment in-house. The U.S. landscape is not like the situation we saw in Europe where as many as six service technicians are available in an area the size of a U.S. county. Getting timely repairs when the equipment is down should be an important consideration when considering ESF systems.
What other options have you looked at?
Free Access Stalls. In this system, the sows are housed in groups but are provided with access to individual feeding stalls. The stalls have a lockout mechanism on the rear gate that allows sow access and prevents other sows from entering. She is able to exit the stall at any time to go back in the pen area. Most designs feature an option for the herdsman to lock the sows in the stalls for treatment. We feel this may be the ultimate sow housing system.
Are Free Access Stalls available from Hog Slat?
We offer this equipment to producers, but, they need to remember that this is the most expensive option they can install. The square footage requirements per sow are high, (as much as 37 sq ft per sow) and the stalls with a locking mechanism are more expensive than a standard gestations stall.
What other options are available?
Floor feeding in pens actually predates stalls. This system is designed with five to eight sows per pen, and the feed is dropped directly on the pen floor. This system is successful if managed correctly. Grouping of the sows by size is critical as the strongest animals tend to get the most feed. It is the lowest cost alternative to gestation stalls.
What seems to be the most popular option?
Stanchions are the most popular system we see for new and remodel projects. This is group housing with short dividers or stanchions to protect the individual sow at feeding time. This design lends itself to a wide range of group sizes with a lot of flexibility in pen and building dimensions, which is important with remodel projects.
Why do you think it is so popular?
Stanchion production methods adapt well to current U.S. production practices. A farm’s current staff can manage a stanchion system because it utilizes the same feed delivery system and penning equipment as they are currently using.
What criteria are used in designing a stanchion system?
The first decision is how many square feet per sow will be allocated. Obliviously, square footage in the building is expensive, and this can range from 17 to 24 square feet per animal. This is a business decision each producer must weigh against projected welfare regulations.
A group sizing of 10 to 20 head per pen is common. Equipment is standard 40-inch high rod panels with 18” long divider stanchions, creating a feed space for each animal in the pen. The stanchions are open rod style set at 18” to 21” width. Experience has shown it is not necessary to use solid dividers on the side or front of the stanchion. The rod style protects the ears and head of the sow from aggressive animals and doesn’t restrict air flow as much as solid panels. In addition, rod style penning is more cost effective and has a longer life span.
We also design a breeding area with stalls equal to 45 days worth of sow holding capacity. Sows are weaned into this area until bred and formed into gestation groups.
How is the stanchion system managed?
Sows are fed using an automated feed system with individual drops. Sows anticipate each feeding and start lining up before the feed drops. You don’t see much shuffling between stanchions as they become conditioned to eating their portion and realize the other feeding slots will not have feed after they finish. The earliest systems utilized a trickle feed system where over a longer time, small amounts of feed were dispensed to hold the sow at their feeding space. Trickle feeding was proven to be unnecessary and just added additional cost to the scheme.
While the sows are eating, a herdsman moves along the alley noting animals that are not at the feed trough. He can mark them for later treatment or movement to a hospital area.
Are there any disadvantages?
Yes, animals cannot be individually fed. Sows that “fall out” of a group because of sickness or injury have to be removed to a hospital pen or stall. Despite the disadvantages, this has been a popular choice for many producers desiring to move into group housing.
How many stanchions have been installed by Hog Slat?
Hog Slat has built and installed over 150,000 spaces of stanchion housing in the U.S., from individual farms up to large production systems. We have gathered a lot of field experience completing those projects and can help any producer considering group housing systems.
The 2012 Pork Expo is in the books. Great weather this year and great food. Especially the 260 lb pork burger Vinny and crew from Hog Slat cooked up. This wasn’t just an inedible gimmick either…..the slice I had was very good.
Walking around the trade show, I noticed there were a few companies with products to address the bin bridging and feed outage problems caused by using DDGS and other alternative feed ingredients……mechanical bin whackers in other words. One rep explained that his product was a much better choice than his competitor’s model and “ours is only about $1200 compared to theirs at $2000.” Wow. The price of the anti-bridging device is almost as much as the bin.
Quite a few companies displayed their version of Electronic Sow Feeding (ESF). One says each feeding station will handle 60-65 sows, the next guy’s will handle 300. All the computerized systems are easy to use; intuitive I believe was the term they used. Everybody had a “system expert” who probably lives several states away from your farm.
Remember when everyone had to hook up their ventilation controls up to a computer in their office? Going to run the barn from the house was the idea. Most ended up with the plastic cover left on after a month or two. A couple of years ago, sorting scales were going to change the way finishing pigs were raised. Most of those are sitting outside rusting away now.
No doubt some producers will successfully adopt ESF technology. One thing is guaranteed, not all the companies offering ESF will be at this show five years from now. Choose carefully.
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 http://hogslat.com/sowmax-feed-dispenser on our web store.
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.
To learn more about SowMAX go to http://hogslat.com/sowmax-feed-dispenser