Pen and feeder design go hand-in-hand to create optimal group housing system.

If your sows could choose a style of group housing, they would pick the one designed to keep them calm and comfortable. Electronic Sow Feeders (ESF) with forward exits in correctly-designed group pens have been proven for decades to keep sows calm to support productivity and minimal removals caused by injury.

A high rate of removal can be costly due to added labor, the need for hospital pens or stall space, and reduced sow well-being and productivity.


Consider the differences in system design:

  • Between 10 and 15 percent of sows are removed from competitive feeding systems such as stanchions or floor feeding.
  • Between 3 and 5 percent of sows are removed from non-competitive systems such as Electronic Sow Feeding and free-access stalls.
  • Operations using ESF with forward-exit feeders report minimal aggression at the feeder entrance and little to no removals caused by feed-guarding aggression.

Keep sows calm and productive in a group gestation management system with these three pen and feeder design strategies:


Pen and feeder design strategies

1. No contact during feeding

Correctly-designed sow feeders protect sows on all sides while they eat. Sows waiting outside a feeder should not be able to touch a sow that’s eating. Nor should they be able to enter the feeder while another animal is still in the feeding process.

When a sow can eat without interruption, she is less likely to protect her feed from other sows or become intimidated and be bullied away from her feed.

“The best group setting encourages calm social interaction and discourages bad habits such as feed guarding,” says Morten. “Choosing a system that allows each sow within the group to eat calmly without having to defend her feed will ultimately be best for you and your sows.”

Pen and feeder design strategies

2. Separate fed and unfed sows

Choose feeders with separate exits and entrances to create one-way-only sow traffic flow and eliminate face-to-face interaction at the feeder entrance.

“Separating fed and unfed sows has been proven for decades to be the optimal strategy to maintain peace in group sow pens using ESF,” says Morten. “Poor design forces sows to cross paths when exiting or entering the feeder. Effective pen and feeder design let a sow walk forward, away from the group.”

Pen and feeder design strategies

3. Direct sows away from the feeder

Design your pens so sows cannot access the feeder entrance immediately after feeding. An optimal pen design has physical structures that direct sows away from the feeders and continue to prohibit access between fed and unfed sows for as long as possible.

“Sows in group pens with a long walk between the feeder exit and entrance rarely follow through with an urge to guard the feeder,” says Morten. “Once they move away from the feeding station, they generally get distracted. After a short time, they will find their social group and lie down.”

You don’t have to accept the statistics about injuries caused by fighting in group gestation pens. When choosing a system for your new or remodeled group sow barn, think about what’s best for your sows. Electronic sow feeders with forward exits within correctly designed pens will allow your sows move and eat without conflict to prevent feed-guarding habits. Your reward will be sows that are calm, comfortable and productive.

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