Remodel of hog barn breathes new life into sow operation
“The Nedap sow management system is helping me stay in business and be competitive even with my small operation.”
Converting the farm to group housing
Remodeling ideas to consider
Converting the farm to group sow housing isn’t easy. Many decisions must be made before construction begins. Some farmers will build new, while others will remodel existing facilities.
With no perfect blueprint for remodeling, producers should invest in a sizable amount of time in planning, consulting with experts along the way.
Resources from the University of Minnesota, Iowa State University and Michigan State University Extension outline factors hog farmers should consider before any construction begins.
Here are some questions you need to answer:
- Will the farm use the current gestation footprint or add space?
- What will be the square feet per sow?
- How will the pens be configured to reduce aggression in group sows?
- What flooring type best supports sow movement and prevents lameness?
- Between a competitive or non-competitive feeding system, what works best for sows and people?
- Is the ventilation system adequate, or does it need to be upgraded?
- How many hospital pens?
- What is your staff’s husbandry skills? Does the design support the workers’ skills? Or does employee training match your remodel design?
No barn is the same. Many decisions must be made to fit your barn and farm’s situation. However, Brad Carson, vice president, Nedap Livestock Management, stresses what is right for the sow should be the priority.
“The most important thing to consider when remodeling is the environment you want to create for your sows when the remodel is over,” he says. “When you choose a barn management system with your sow’s needs in mind, your sows will be productive.”
Consider these three areas to effectively remodel you facility’s system and make it easy to use:
1. Above all else, the sow. When deciding to remodel your barn, think like a sow. What keeps her calm so she can be productive? Minimizing aggression, providing adequate resting areas and eliminating congestion at the feeder entrance are keys to peaceful, productive sows.
From the slat and pen configurations to the feeder design, each part of your barn plays a role in sow care and her success. Sows can develop feed-guarding habits if given the chance, so carefully evaluate feeder designs.
What about when she is done? A feeder designed with front exits encourages one-way traffic through pens to eliminate negative interaction.
This kind of design also prevents sows from returning to the entrance immediately after eating to guard the feeder or aggressively disrupt another sow trying to eat. Giving every sow the opportunity to eat without interruption will allow her to maximize productivity.
In addition to reduced aggression, sows using forward-exiting feeders are more comfortable exiting both breeding stalls and farrowing stalls. The forward-exit motion is familiar, making exiting from the stalls easier on both the sows and the employees.
2. Do the sow math. To meet square-foot requirements in group pens, be flexible with your sow math. You might need to change the number of sows in your barn. Or you might need to develop group sizes slightly differently than in a new barn. To find the perfect fit, surround yourself with a team who has experience in all sizes and style of group sow management.
3. Sow strategy during and after the remodel. It’s possible for production to continue during the remodel. The first step is to adjust breeding targets to reduce sow inventory. This gives you room to pull out stalls and begin building new pens. Another strategy is to find an alternative location to house your sows during the remodel.
You certainly may choose to populate the new space with gilts not previously crated. However, you don’t have to. Sow have strong feed drives and are accustomed to eating enthusiastically when feed drops in front of them. Producers who are feeding formerly stalled sows in group pens say sows learn quickly to use individual electronic feeding systems because they have strong feed drives and know what to do when feed drops.
When you put your sows’ needs first, remodeling a barn from gestation stalls to group gestation pens can give new life to your barn for years to come.Find your solution