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5 Ways ESF Barns Reduce Sow Stress


Tim Kurbis

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Converting to an Electronic Sow Feeding barn usually brings about many different thoughts and emotions. You may be excited for the change, frustrated about the social demands and regulations, or you may just know it is a necessary change. Whether you are frustrated, excited, or indifferent, you probably have the end goal of increasing production within your barn. One of the major benefits of ESF barns is their ability, with proper management, to reduce stress among your sows. By reducing stress, the pigs become happier and healthier. When the pigs are happy and healthy, they produce more piglets and increase your profits. Learn more about how Electronic Sow Feeding barns will reduce your sows' stress.


1. Individual ESF Stations

One of the major stressors in sow housing is competition during feeding times. With electronic feeding systems, the girls are only allowed to enter the stations one at a time. Once the sow enters the feed station, the gate will lock until she is done eating; she can eat in peace and at her own pace. She does not have to fight for her food, so she will remain calm and won't upset others around her.


2. Sows cannot immediately re-enter the feed station

We design sow pens with a large separation between the feed station exits and the entrance(s) to those feed stations. This allows a natural flow into the rest of the gestation pen, but it also ensures that sows cannot head straight back to the entrance of the feeding stations as soon as they are done. When a sow can get back to the entrance, she will cause competitive stress among the rest of the sows by fighting to get into the station again or by blocking the entrance. By creating a long exit and path away from the feed station, the entrance will be out of sight and out of mind. She will get distracted with social interaction, her food will settle in her stomach and she’ll then decide to go lay down as she passes the nesting areas.


3. Allocated space to meet all of the sows' needs

New Standard carefully designs Nedap Electronic Sow Feeding into the pens to make sure that your pigs have enough space to meet their needs. We also design each unique area of the barn in a way to meet a specific need of the sows. In an ESF barn, we typically account for three major areas in the pens: feeding area, nesting area and dunging area. The girls flow from the ESF stations (feeding area) through the social/dunging area and then to the nesting area. While this seems like a simple flow, each area must be designed in a specific way to increase efficiency and meet the pigs' needs. When we can properly meet their needs without squeezing them in tight spaces or forcing them to move on to spaces before they are ready, the pigs will remain calm and be easier to work with. The correct amount of space is also necessary to allow healthy separation between dominant animals. Studies have shown that the amount of distance a sow must remove herself from the presence of another who is trying to establish hierarchy is approximately 30 feet. With large, well designed ESF pens, this distance is easy to achieve.


4. Controlled ingestion speed

Not all sows eat at the same pace. Some actually eat quite slowly in comparison to others. We have found it is best to feed to the slowest animals to prevent problems. If slower eating sows are forced to eat quickly, they will incur digestive issues by learning to gulp their food, or they will leave some behind for the next sow. Either way, this will cause her to leave the feed station irritated. If she rejoins the group in a bad mood, she won’t keep that to herself; she will share and multiply her irritation. 

This is a point worth repeating: it is extremely important that feed is not dispensed at a rate quicker than what the slowest sows can eat, otherwise some will be forced to eat quickly or leave some feed behind. The stomach of the slowest animal in the pen can't handle hurried eating, so she will develop major digestive issues. Not only will rushed eating cause digestive issues, it will add more stress on the slow sow. She will not be happy about being forced to eat quickly, so she will leave the station stressed. There is also the chance that she will irritate others in the pen afterwards by rubbing her frustration off on them. Read more on how we program dispensing speed in feeding systems.

5. Meeting the needs of the "Social Sow"

Pigs are very social creatures, and they require specially designed pens to meet these needs. For example, the sows like to rest as a community for a certain amount of time each day. They typically lay with their defined social group and like to have contact with others around them. In a large pen, smaller social groups of 8-10 will quickly develop and these groups typically stay together throughout their time in the ESF barn. We specially design each area of the barn with enough space to allow these social groups to develop and stay together. With unique sow housing design, we promote these natural traits and encourage the sows to develop good social habits. When they have these good social habits, their stress is dramatically reduced.

In reality, all producers care about the comfort and welfare of their animals. The struggle comes in the cost to change processes and equipment. We understand the concerns of switching to an ESF barn, but we also want to assure producers that doing so will make them more profitable. In these barns, it is amazing how calm and quiet the pigs are. With the proper equipment and barn management, sows will be noticeably less stressed. Adding Electronic Sow Feeding systems will make it easier for your barn staff to manage the animals, improve your piglet rates, and cut feed costs, making the automated equipment a profitable investment.


At New Standard, we focus on the right solutions for each operation. We are not going to push our agenda or try to meet sales quotas. We will listen to your needs and talk through your sow housing challenges. At the end of the day, you and your staff are the ones operating the barns, so we want to put together solutions that make sense for you. If you would like to start a conversation about ESF barns or any aspect of sow housing, give us a call or click the button below.

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Topics: Electronic Feeding, Sow Housing


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