It's true, effective group sow housing depends on high quality ESF equipment. But purchasing and installing top of the line equipment does not make your gestation pens instantly efficient and profitable. It goes deeper into the design and support for the system. When talking to an ESF equipment supplier, make sure to ask the following questions.
1. What does your training and support program look like?
The sale of the equipment should never be the end of the relationship between you and your equipment company. Outside of gestation pen design, training your staff and your animals on how to use the equipment and pen is the most important step in transitioning to loose housing. Make sure the company has a thorough training program that doesn't leave you hanging.
Along with training, you should expect intentional tech support for the life of the equipment and the barn. Long periods of down time can wreak havoc on your operations, so it is vital you have a support team ready to diagnose problems and provide solutions to get you back up and running. Make sure your equipment company can respond quickly and provide you with in-depth technical support.
2. Can I talk to 5-10 of your current customers?
Asking this question will give you couple tidbits of insight that are vital to making your equipment supplier decision. First, it will tell you if they are confident in their systems depending on how they react. Second, you will be able to get more insight from other producers running the ESF system. You can get a wider view of the system including its advantages and its drawbacks.
Talking to past customers who have been through the process will also help you discover whether you are ready to handle the conversion or if you need to do a little more prep work.
3. Do you have a network of previous barns we can have access to once we are up and running?
Your supplier shouldn't have any trouble with you connecting with others running the system, but the strong companies will have a network of barns dialed up for you to contact. Each team is unique and manages their barn a bit differently. When each barn has a strong connection to the network of other barns, they can share what is working well for them and learn what is working well for others. This helps the entire network become stronger and more productive. It also allows your equipment company to learn from current operations and develop better technologies to implement into current and future barns.
4. What failures have you had with your system?
If your ESF salesman has the right intentions, he or she will be open and honest about the history of their company including their successes and their failures. The important thing to note in their response is how they approach the question. Do they pass the blame onto the barn builders and individual producers? Or do they take ownership of past failures and explain what they have learned from previous barns?
What To Listen For
Listen to how salesmen promote their system. If they are focusing completely on the equipment, they are likely taking the wrong approach to electronic sow feeding. Again, quality and durable equipment is part of a great ESF system, but the best salesmen will explain the design of the entire group gestation pen rather than focus on equipment alone. They will show you how the entire pen should be laid out to reduce animal stress, increase efficient animal flow, and eliminate complications.
Loose sow housing has had some negative publicity in the past. Barns have been built with poor design because they have focused completely on ESF equipment as the solution rather than the entire system design.
The bottom line is, don't get caught up just in the quality and features of the equipment; take your time and look at the entire pen design, the company's training and support system, and their attention to detail.