State-of-the-Art Sow Research Unit Officially Open

CANADA - The Prairie Swine Centre (PSC) officially opened its newly renovated sow research unit located at Floral, Saskatchewan on Tuesday (June 10) with an open house.
calendar icon 14 June 2008
clock icon 7 minute read

Next week, following a fumigation, cleaning and final equipment check the first pigs will be moved in.

The Prairie Swine Centre is one of several University of Saskatchewan (U of S) research facilities. Its primary focus is animal nutrition, animal behaviour and engineering.

PSC Research Internationally Recognized

“The Prairie Swine Centre is highly regarded by the local and regional producers but, if you were to talk to anybody across Canada regarding the swine industry they'd recognize the importance of the Prairie Swine Centre to their own activities,“ observes University of Saskatchewan acting associate vice president research Dr. Jim Basinger.

“Beyond the borders of Canada the swine industry is of global importance. Many countries have tremendously strong industries.“

He suggests it would not be unlikely to drop into any major centre around the world that is concerned with swine production and find that they would recognize not only the name of the organization but they would know some of the researchers who are involved in anything from animal nutrition to animal behavior.

The approximately $2 million upgrade replaced infrastructure constructed by the university more than 25 years ago.

The original facility, built in 1979, consisted of four main buildings including two 100 sow barns, a small 50 sow barn and a grow finish barn.

“Basically what we did was we undertook a complete replacement of our gestation, lactation and breeding areas and gilt development areas; consolidated what was previously in four barns into a single barn,“ says Prairie Swine Centre outgoing president and CEO Dr. John Patience.

Cost Reduction and Enhanced Research Capabilities Drive Renovations

“The main reason was to lower our cost of operation,“ says Dr. Patience. "The secondary objective was to enhance our sow research capability.“

“This is a project we started about three years ago, in terms of evaluating how we were going to be a more efficient research centre,“ says acting president and CEO Lee Whittington.

It starts off by being a more efficient pork producer. We were looking for ways to reduce our cost of production. We looked at our 30 year old buildings and decided that there was a lot of new technology out there that we could incorporate.

Dr. Patience adds, putting into one barn what was previously done in four different barns immediately leads to huge improvements in labour efficiency and there are some energy efficiencies that should save money as well.

Improvements Expected to Ease Staff Workloads

PSC operations manager Brian Andres recalls the labour inefficiencies were so great, with staff running between barns, that it was felt something had to be done.

He explains, the old facility, including the grow finish barn, required a compliment of five people to run production, breeding, farrowing and nursery as well as grow finish. That number can be reduced by one and a half to two staff members because of the increased efficiencies.

As well, Andres says, there are eight semi-intensive rooms where animals are all fed by hand.

“These rooms have five pigs per pen, approximately 100 animals per room and those all have to be fed by hand. The automatic feed systems put in grow finish as well as the automatic feed systems throughout the new facility will greatly improve efficiencies.“

Whittington estimates, “That, in itself, is going to save hours and hours everyday probably reducing the overall labour bill by somewhere around 30 percent.“

As well, he notes, replacing four buildings built in 1980 with one brand new 2008 building that boasts more efficient heating and lighting is expected to reduce utility costs by 30 percent. He believes that represents a huge opportunity as utilities have jumped into number three spot overall in terms of costs of production for commercial pork producers.

Gestation Housing Complies with European Standards

The new facility has several other improvements.

Dr. Patience notes, while the breeding area is very much like any other conventional breeding area, the gestation area is quite a bit different employing walk in lock in stalls, or freedom stalls. “They allow the sow to walk into the crate and there's a mechanism that closes the gate behind her and then, when she's finished eating and wants to leave the stall, she just backs up against the gate and it opens up again.“

The stall system was developed in Denmark to meet European standards.

In Denmark legislation requires more space footage per sow than is standard in North America says Helena Echberg, the North American regional Manager with Egebjerg International.

“Our farrowing pen seems to be a little larger than the farrowing pens in North America.“

She notes group based housing has been researched in Denmark for the last 20 years and there have been a lot of different systems.

“One of the systems that is recommended and preferred by Danish farmers is the free access stall where the sow can walk in and out as she pleases.“

“That was one feature we really wanted because it's an excellent model,“ says Dr. Patience.

“It's popular in Europe therefore we can suspect that, as group housing becomes more common in North America, it'll at least be a system that will be looked at and we'll have the benefit of years of research to see how the system really does work.“

European and North American Standards Moving Closer

Echberg foresees a time when European and North American standards will come closer together.

“Over the last year, especially, there has been a lot of changes in the production in North America and you see it's going toward the same standards that we have in Europe.“

She believes, as North Americans start to talk more about housing sows in groups, it is important to see how this technology can be adapted into the North American way of producing sows.

PSC Moves from Three Week to Four Week Weaning

In the farrowing rooms the biggest innovation is the switch from three week weaning to four week weaning.

Dr. Patience says that was under the advice of industry who said there's lots of units out there that are weaning at three weeks. They can do that kind of research but, with industry moving more and more to four week weaning, they thought we should move to four week weaning to undertake research to support that change.

Ongoing Research Key to Ongoing Economic Viability

Saskatchewan Pork Development Board general manager Neil Ketilson believes research is always important to everybody.

“You always have to stay ahead of the game rather than just trying to stay even.“

If you fail to do research, if you fail to invest in new infrastructure over time eventually you become stale. Other more competitive areas of the world will take over and you'll lose your competitive edge, he says.

Dr. Patience agrees, we have to be looking to the future.

“I've often said that, if people were to analyze pork industries around the world in different countries, those countries that years ago gave up on research dealing with economic efficiency and competitiveness are those industries that we now see going into decline.“

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