WPX: How to Reconfigure Sow Housing

US – During the World Pork Expo (WPX) in Des Moines, Iowa, three experts discussed a number of different sow housing systems and the challenges presented by each, placing particular focus on how to retrofit an existing house with an alternative system, writes Chris Wright for ThePigSite.
calendar icon 10 June 2013
clock icon 4 minute read

Dr. Don Levis of Levis Worldwide Swine Consultancy enumerated the various feeding systems available. The non-competitive feeding systems include: electronic sow feeders (ESF), free access stalls and cafeteria feeding. The competitive feeding systems include: short feed stalls, full body length feed stalls and floor feeding.

Dr. Levis pointed out that proper management is the key, no matter which equipment is used.
The sows must be trained on any of these systems, and they do learn, he said. When deciding what system to pick, you have to think like a sow.

He emphasized the importance of the dominant sow in feeding. One has to be sure that all the other sows will get enough food, in spite of the dominant sows.

Dr. Levis said that choosing an alternative system involves:

  • investment costs
  • ability of housing system and management to maintain a high level of sow health and welfare
  • ease of performing daily management practices
  • labor requirements and availability of skilled labor
  • feeding system (competitive versus non-competitive)
  • method of housing (static versus dynamic)
  • reproductive performance
  • overall simplicity of the system

He emphasized that no one system fits all situations.

Remodeling with electronic sow feeding

Much of the conference was dedicated to the idea of how best to take an existing sow housing unit and convert it to an alternative system.

Dr. Levis pointed out the factors to consider when remodeling:

  • feeding/housing system
  • do you stay within the same building shell or do you expand?
  • do you use the present feeding system?
  • floor space allocation per sow
  • number of sows per pen
  • number of boar pens
  • size and configuration of relief spaces

Dr. Harold Gonyou of the Prairie Swine Center in Canada then compared feeding systems, looking particularly at electronic sow feeding (ESF).

One of the most important factors is how to control or reduce sow aggression. Much has to do with regrouping the sows. It is easier to control aggression by using small groups that have been together before and for this short stalls work best. ESF normally includes larger groups of sows, so reducing aggression is more challenging. However with ESF aggressive sows do not get any more to eat than the others.

Another factor is tracking the sows off feed, the ones that are not eating. They may not eat because they are sick or lame or because they are intimidated. In short stalls this has to be done by observation. In ESF this is done automatically. Once a sow off feed is identified, she needs to be moved to a relief pen.

Dr. Gonyou stated that ESF uses larger pens which may be difficult to fit within an existing structure. When required to “fit over” an existing floor pattern, pen design is further compromised. Sows need 19.5 square feet of space per sow, which is easier to attain with a new building than with a retrofit.

There are no short cuts

Dr. Ron Bates of Michigan State University summarized the remodeling concept by stating that there is no short cut or standard way to reconfigure an existing barn.

More space per animal may be a better long term choice since it affects productivity and welfare. The farm manager will have to be more aware of both productivity and welfare in comparison to stall systems.

When retrofitting stall barns to group housing for sows there is no single approach.

Dr. Bates concluded by saying that the farm decision process should be logical and consider the welfare needs of the sows and the production needs of the farm.

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