Installing new feed equipment in a group housing barn has been credited with enhancing production, feed efficiency, and the overall health of the animals. While precision feeding technology certainly provides the opportunity to step up your production and barn operations, new equipment alone will never leave you with the high-functioning barn you desire. You should never just buy electronic sow feeding equipment and expect a group housing barn to work. Keep reading to find out why.
1. High Tech Feed Equipment Is Essential, But Not the Entire Solution
In reality, feed equipment does just what it says it does - it feeds the pigs. Installing high tech feeders is essential to precision feeding and keeping your sows at healthy weights for farrowing; but simply throwing a few electronic feeders in a group gestation pen is, unfortunately, not going to suddenly make that pen functional and efficient. In fact, carelessly executed group gestation pens can quickly become a disastrous management nightmare.
For example, if you have a group gestation pen with state of the art feeders but they are placed in such a way that the sows can exit, and re-enter quickly, how are you going to keep the dominate animals from guarding the feed stations? High tech feeders themselves do not help you reduce natural aggression ahead of the feeders; only good barn design can do that. Putting together an easy-to-manage barn takes careful planning and consideration for all areas of the pen. Reliable ESF equipment is vital, but it is still just one piece in a very large, complex puzzle.
2. Complete Barn Management Is More Than Just Precision Feeding
Once a sow is done eating and exits the feeder, what is she doing next? How are you going to maximize your opportunity as you have her contained? How are you going to prevent her from going back and causing problems at the entrance to the feeder?
Good barn design involves deciding how to lay out the pen so that pig movements follow a natural flow and opportunities for sow aggression are minimized. The only way to do this is to understand natural sow behavior and design around what makes them comfortable while taking away opportunities for them to compete or fight.
Planning this layout is just as important as choosing the ESF equipment itself. You can save your staff some major headaches with a combination of good design and automated processes like marking, central separation, heat detection and weight monitoring.
Forward-exit ESF systems with central separation are the best to move sows through the pen in an efficient way that does not expose the sows to additional competitive stressors. In forward-exit systems, the sow is completely enclosed in the feed station and nobody else can touch her, bite her, or exhibit aggression towards her. Learn more about forward-exit ESF systems.
3. You Aren't Just Buying Equipment, You're Investing in a Support Team
Your barn and technology support team may be the most valuable purchase you make in the barn remodeling or building process. You should always ask an ESF salesman the right questions and never trust someone who is focusing only on selling you equipment. When you make your final decision on equipment, be sure you are investing in a tech support team for the life of the barn. Even the very best ESF system will have occasional issues - if you haven't heard, sows are hard on equipment!
When part of your barn shuts down due to software or equipment failure, it is comforting to have a strong relationship with your equipment provider knowing they can help you get your operation back up and running in a timely manner. Down time can really wreak havoc on your operations, so make sure your equipment company has a team ready that can quickly diagnose problems and provide in-depth technical support.
So please, don't just buy ESF equipment. Invest in an expert team of sow experts, barn designers, and service professionals that will support you from day one, and through the many successful years to follow.