If you're a pork producer, changing your barn's sow gestation pen design is not just a complicated process, it can also be a big investment. For this reason many producers put off making changes, even when they know that the new designs are superior and will someday be the norm. Committing to a new setup for your gestating sows isn't always an easy pill to swallow, but there are some reasons why you might want to consider doing it now rather than later.
1. Increased Production, Decreased Expenses
Over and over research has shown us that sows who live in group housing produce more piglets because of the reduced stress on the sow. A major factor in this is the difference that ESF stations make in the way sows are fed.
In traditional pig barns sows are fed a standardized amount based on their general weight class. The problem with this is that sows are often under or overfed. But in the updated gestation pen design each sow's ear tag is embedded with a microchip unique to her. When she enters the ESF station she is fed the exact amount she needs for her weight and condition (based on weight and stage of pregnancy and/or stage of lactation). This virtually eliminates overfeeding and underfeeding.
Built in scales at the feeding station also allow for consistent sow weight monitoring. In fact, the automation of the ESF station even allows you to program the system to separate out the sows with weight gain issues so that your staff can assess their condition.
2. Increased Staff Efficiency & Retention
Updated sow gestation pen design allows for greater efficiency with each individual sow, but also within the barn. As a result, we have noticed many producers significantly improve their staff workflow, and they have better staff retention and happier workers. Part of the reason for this is the improvement in working conditions. Pigs in updated barns are quieter, happier and easier to work with.
The ESF system also allows workers to program in which sows need to be separated into a holding pen making it easier to select out the pigs who need vaccinations or treatment. The system is even sensitive enough to select out pigs that are consistently losing weight so that it is easier to offer medical treatment or spot problem sows. Contrary to common thought, the staff does not have to scramble through the pen looking for the right sow.
3. End Consumer Demand
The movement in pork production has had a consistent theme over the last few years. End consumers want to feel good about how their meat is produced. They want to know the living conditions were acceptable; and they aren't afraid to create a PR disaster in the process.
This push toward greater accountability means that stockyards are starting to pay more attention to the public opinion about sow housing. While we certainly don't hope for greater regulation, history has taught us that it is likely. Europe and Australia have already passed regulation to phase out stall barns, and the movement in North America is toward group sow housing. Isn't it better to invest at your own pace before you are required to do so?
While this movement is focused on animal welfare issues, we don't believe this is the major reason you should update your hog barn design. With proper design and equipment, group housing will help you increase production, decrease expenses, and create a more comfortable environment for both your staff and the pigs.
If you are ready to dip your toes into the process, set up a free consultation. There is no obligation; our only goal is to talk through how gestation pen design can revolutionize pork operations.