Saving time and sow feed

Gestating pen design saves 20 percent feed on Canadian farm

You can start saving time and feed as soon as you transition to loose sow housing if you choose correct gestating pen design and feeding systems.

Canadian pork producers who have made the switch are saving feed and labour. They are finding it easier to keep sows in optimal body condition. Farmers are seeing these benefits because they chose electronic sow feeding (ESF) systems that:

  • Eliminate feed theft by aggressive sows
  • Prevent spilled feed
  • Keep sows calm and easy to handle

Save sow feed

Dave Denys of Parkhill, Ont. knew he was using too much feed in his old stalled system, but he was surprised to find out how much. He feeds the same sows about 20 per cent less since he transitioned his herd from individual stalls into one large group pen with electronic sow feeding.

Getting rid of his drop feeders was a big step toward eliminating feed waste.

“When we were filling drops, we could see sows knocking feed out,” Denys said. “They eat while you’re filling and then they still get their whole drop. Some can get almost double fed, depending on how aggressive they are.”

Denys chose a system that pours feed and adds water at a rate Denys has set – not too slow or too fast. If a sow stops eating, the system stops delivering feed until she wants more. Each sow can eat at her own pace and finish her ration. She cannot access extra feed.

Dave Denys

Better sow performance

In early 2016, Denys and his family remodeled their individual-stall barn that was built in 2002. After the remodel, the family repopulated the barn with the same sows. Of the herd of 250 sows, about 215 are in one large gestation group, while the rest are in farrowing or breeding stalls.

Denys has more control over each sow’s feed intake in the group pen than he did in stalls. He chose an ESF system that prohibits feed theft. When a sow enters a feeder in Denys’s barn, she cannot be touched or harassed by another sow.

“With my electronic sow feeding system, I don’t have to worry about aggressive sows stealing feed from other sows, and I know exactly how much feed each animal is eating,” Denys says.

Precise feeding improves herd feed efficiency and body condition. Denys sees better sow performance since transitioning to a group gestation pen.

“We are on track to wean 28 pigs per sow per year because the sows are in better condition. That’s two more pigs per sow per year than before,” says Denys. “An overweight sow usually bears fewer live pigs and doesn’t milk as well. We don’t have that problem anymore. We know what each sow is eating.”


A sow enters an electronic sow feeder. This feeder is designed to prevent sows from stealing each other’s feed, which makes it easy to keep sows in excellent body condition.

Correct gestating pen design

Denys has observed a marked improvement in sow behaviour since the transition. Sows are much calmer, and the barn is quieter.

“No more sows banging stalls or screaming to get fed,” Denys says.

Handling animals is easier and faster because group sows are comfortable around people and are accustomed to walking.

“They’re easier to move to farrowing because they’re used to going in and out of doors,” Denys says. “We’re saving a lot of time.”

No sow feed waste

Not far from Denys’s remodeled barn is a new 1,300-sow barn built by Bryden Hope, a Parkhill producer, in the spring of 2017. Like Denys, Hope chose an ESF system designed to eliminate feed waste. One factor is a feeder bowl that prevents sows from pushing feed onto the floor while eating.

“In our stall barn, where we manually drop feed, we have to scrape wasted feed every day,” says Hope. “We have literally zero feed waste in our electronic sow feeding stations.”

Hope manages the 1,300-head sow operation in dynamic groups of about 240 sows per pen. He also has 900 sows in a rented stalled barn nearby and can compare the operations to see the difference in efficiency.

Hope was wary of jumping into loose sow housing but, after moving sows into the barn and using the system, he quickly saw how well it works.

“Overall, we’re saving two hours a day in the barn,” says Hope. “Two of my biggest costs are feed and labour. We can manage them more efficiently with electronic sow feeding, automatic sow separation and automated heat detection.”

Sow management using Nedap sow separation


A sow exits an ESF system that is designed to keep groups calm by preventing interaction between fed and unfed sows. Correctly designed ESF systems save feed and support herd feed efficiency.

Sows resting group gestation pen


Correct pen design keeps sows calm in loose housing systems. Calm sows are productive and easy to handle.