EuroTier organizers set aside a special display area for technologies and equipment designed for loose sow housing.

Te 5,400-sq.-ft. display area was cosponsored by Deut sche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (DLG), the German Agricultural Society, and Bauforderung Landwirtschaft (BFL), an organization representing agricultural and livestock building construction and optimization of livestock management conditions. DLG and BFL specialists staffed the display area to answer pork producers’ questions.

Stall Ban Looms

A decision to ban gestations stalls in European Union (EU) countries was made in 2001, and dictates that gestating sows in commercial operations must be kept in groups from four weeks after service until one week before farrowing. Space allocations differ by group size and age of sows. Groups of 39 or fewer must have 17.8 sq. ft. (young sows) or 24.2 sq. ft. (old sows), while groups of 40 or more require 16.2 or 22.1 sq. ft., respectively.The Jan. 1, 2013 deadline to eliminate gestation stalls, , is now just two years away.

“Sows must be able to walk around or lie down in peace during their gestating phase, which entails farms implementing new types of housing systems that satisfactorily address these issues and which do not compromise feeding strategies,” explained Vincent ter Beek in EuroTier Innovation 2010, a special publication distributed to attendees.

In April 2010, pork producers filed a plea to extend the deadline, noting the financial stresses in the industry have left many unprepared to invest in the technologies and renovations required to eliminate gestation stalls. Beek noted that pork producers in southern Europe, particularly, were not prepared for the conversion. However, producers in the northern countries — the Netherlands, Denmark, United Kingdom and Sweden — pressed to retain the deadline, noting the timeline must be met if the industry is to establish credibility with consumers.

As plans for EuroTier 2010 progressed, BFL approached Dirk Hesse, a member of the DLG Pig Committee and head of the farm technic department at the University of Giessen, to coordinate the loose sow housing display, which featured flooring, heating and ventilation, building construction and sow feeding options. Hesse invited a limited number of companies to display their products. Those that accepted paid a fee to be included.

A considerable portion of the space was devoted to electronic sow feeding (ESF) systems and free-access gestation stalls.

“There were tons of options directed at loose sow housing in the special display area and throughout the trade show floor,” notes Ken Stalder, Extension swine specialist at Iowa State University.

“The free-access stall option requires more space, but less technology. The different free-access stalls were mostly differentiated by the mechanisms that operate the rear gates and rear-gate designs that would make A.I. or pregnancy testing easier,” he observes.

“The ESF systems feature more technology and more diet control and require less room, but some computer capabilities are needed to operate them successfully. One of the more pressing issues with ESF systems is what will happen if the system breaks down or power is lost. The feed reservoirs with those systems are not very big. You have to have a back-up plan to ensure sows are fed,” Stalder adds.

In general, companies displayed more sow housing options and greater sophistication than producers would normally see at U.S. trade shows. “Perhaps U.S. producers and distributors don’t feel the urgency to make changes in sow housing just yet,” Stalder notes.

Following is a brief description of the free-access stalls and ESF systems presented in the loose sow housing display area, including their Web sites for additional information. Not all are available in the United States, although most companies expressed interest in establishing U.S. distributors or partnerships. Also see DLG/BFL Web site, www.sauen-in-gruppen.de (click “translate” for English), for additional loose sow housing information.

Electronic Sow Feeding (ESF)

ESF systems feature computerized recognition and data recording on individual sows in a group setting. In all cases, sows are identified and gain access to their daily feed allotment via a transponder embedded in an ear tag or button. Computerized systems allow producers to allocate a specific amount of feed for each sow in the group, according to her needs and body condition. The various technologies are generally differentiated by the feeding mechanism.

Most ESF systems are designed with a series of doors that allow sows access to the feed hopper, where they can eat their daily feed allocation undisturbed. Another sow cannot enter the feeding area until the sow ahead of her exits the station. An on-farm Web application is recommended for most farms to make it easier to correct any programming errors, change a sow’s daily feed allocation, and identify sows that failed to pass through the system within a 24-hour period. Generally, one ESF station can handle up to 60-65 sows.

The biggest challenge with ESF systems is training naïve sows and gilts to access the feeding space.

The following companies were included in the loose sow housing display area.

  • Big Dutchman, Germany/USA.
    As a sow enters the CallMatic 2 ESF
    feeding station, she passes through a light barrier and the rear door closes. An antenna placed over the feeding trough reads the sow’s identification tag, which opens the lid and her daily ration is metered into the trough in small amounts. When a sow has finished eating, she exits the station and the trough lid closes. If she does not eat her full allocation for the day, she can return to eat it later. Sows that have eaten their daily allocation can enter the station, but are denied access to the trough until the next 24-hour feeding period. Options include dry feeding or computer-controlled liquid feeding, color marking and additional hoppers for feed supplements. Web site: www.bigdutchman.com.
  • Nedap Agri, Netherlands. The company notes that over 3.5 million sows around the world receive their daily meals via the Nedap Velos ESF system. The Standalone model is designed for stable (static) groups. Mechanical or pneumatic entry gates are available. The Separation Unit model is designed for dynamic groups with multiple feeding stations, automatic identification check and sow marking capabilities. The Separation Unit routes sows away from the feeding station, discourages repeat visits and reduces confrontations with other sows. Both models are readily adaptable to existing facilities. Web site: www.nedap-agri.com.
  • PigTek, USA/Netherlands/Germany. The Mannebeck Intec Mac, PC-operated feeding system includes a Web-based interface that can be operated virtually anywhere. Sows are recognized via an ear tag transponder, which closes the door behind them and delivers a daily diet to a stainless steel trough. The system is described as plug-and-play ready, is expandable to fit any size herd, and provides information in real time. PigTek also displayed the Fitmix Mac feeding system, which meters a mash/paste-type feed through a nozzle directly to the sow’s mouth, eliminating the feed trough. Fitmix offers economical, transponder-regulated feeding, saves space and can accommodate up to 120 sows in a stable group. Web site: www.mannebeck.com. Also see feature story on page 16.
  • Schauer, Austria. The Compident electronic sow feeding system can accommodate up to 80 sows per station. TIRIS transponders ensure reliable animal identification and pneumatic feed portion control. Wet feed is provided in a trough that swivels in for easy access and undisturbed feeding. The system is now available with scales to guide individual feeding according to the animal’s condition. A Compident Trainee learning station is available for training up to 25 gilts weighing 175 lb. or more. The trainee model makes it easier to train gilts and sows using mechanical and programming measures. Web site: www.schauer.co.at.
  • Skiold, Denmark. This transponder-based technology was introduced to the Danish pig industry in 1983. Current software is designed for PDA hand-held and scan-capable devices to make data entry easier, while minimizing the chances for errors. The ESF system can serve 50 sows/station, operates with dry or wet feed, and can be encoded with up to nine different feeding curves. Web site: www.skiold.com.

Free-Access Gestation Stalls

Free-access stalls, considered a compromise between conventional gestation stalls and penning sows in groups, serves as a feeding station and provides safe harbor for sows in groups.

Sows soon learn to enter the stalls to eat or lay down. With some models, as sows enter, they push on a bar or paddle that automatically closes the rear gate behind them, allowing them to eat in peace. When the gate is closed, it is impossible for another sow to harass or force a sow to leave a stall.

When a sow is ready to leave, she simply backs against the rear gate to flip it open and reset the front bar. Sows can come and go as they please.

Many sows prefer the security of a stall, while others choose to lie in the open areas in solitude or with a small group of sows. When sows are initially mixed, the free-access stalls allow the more timid sows to duck into a stall and avoid the conflict.

A common feature of the free-access stalls is a locking mechanism to temporarily hold the sows for pregnancy checking, vaccination or treatment. Most free-access systems have a means of locking/unlocking the rear gates of a single stall or an entire row of stalls. Locking mechanisms differ — some controlled manually by a lever or latch, while others are more sophisticated, using a hydraulic or pneumatic system. The stalls are commonly installed in rows according to the producer’s needs and group size.

Sows can be fed by hand or with drop feeders. Because sows don’t always eat in the same stall, it is virtually impossible to feed individual sows according to body condition.

Acceptable group size may vary by country, but most free-access stall vendors recommend groups no larger than 20 sows. Stalls can be placed in pens of any shape or configuration, although L-shaped and T-shaped pens are common. Some producers provide bedding or rubber mats, while others prefer solid concrete or slotted floors.

These companies’ free-access stalls were featured in the loose sow housing display area:

  • Big Dutchman, Germany/USA.
    Features of the Easy-Lock model include a swinging rear gate, adjustable width (23.6 to 27.6 in.) and an optional insemination gate. The HD model features rugged construction, two widths (24.4 and 25.6 in.), an up-and-over rear gate that closes only when the sow reaches the feeding trough and a gate design to facilitate artificial insemination or pregnancy checking. Web site: www.bigdutchman.com.
  • PigTek, USA/Netherlands/
    Germany. Porcon-brand free-access stalls are available with several rear-gate designs. The Porcon Freedom stall is equipped with an auto-close feature when the sow enters the stall. Sows can be locked in and released singly or in groups. Porcon AI stalls feature a saloon-style door design, which allows the split rear gates to pivot inward and outward. The Swingfix Box stall features simple construction and easy access to the sow. Sows can be locked in or released individually or in groups. Web site: www.pigtek.net or www.mannebeck.com.
  • Egebjerg International, Denmark. No pipes above the sows makes the Inn-O-Stall free-access stall more worker friendly, and the rear gate design makes it easy for workers to step into the stall area as needed, such as for artificial insemination. Stall gates can be locked individually or in groups from a central location. The raised stainless steel trough provides maximum resting area, allows for optimal boar contact for heat checking and makes cleaning passageways easier. Web site: www.egebjerg.com.
  • Duraumat Farm Equipment, Denmark. The Eco-Liberty System free-access stalls are available with two rear-gate options — Echo-B and Echo-D. Limited translated information available at: www.duraeumat.de.
  • En-Sta Farm Equipment, Denmark. Self-locking, free-access stalls can be locked or opened individually or in groups. The Easy-Insemination split rear gate allows the top section to be turned in or out for easy insemination, while the bottom portion of the gate prevents the sow from backing out of the stall. Additional rear gate designs are also available. Limited translated information available at: www.en-sta.de.

Rubber Mats for Sows

With over 40 years of experience in the development of rubber floor mats for dairy cattle, Kraiburg Elastik GmbH turned its considerable expertise to developing a comfortable lying surface for sows.

Early testing of the dairy mats soon revealed that the persistent rooting and chewing behavior of sows shredded and tore the mat edges. Now, after five years of development, the company has introduced the Porca Relax rubber mat series designed for the lying area in loose sow housing pen designs. A “bite-optimized” protective surface and an integrated, framed, rigid edge solved the rooting/biting challenge.

The universal (standard) ¾-in. thick mats are 4 x 6½ ft. and available in solid and laser-cut, slotted forms. Mat openings do not have to match the openings of the existing slotted floors, as the intention is simply for liquid drainage.

The company’s stainless steel fastening system anchors the mats in solid concrete floors or secures them to slotted floors. When solid mats are installed, the company recommends a 2-4% slope to ensure moisture drainage. Mats can be cut-to-fit or custom-made.

In trials conducted by the Bavarian State Research Centre for Agriculture in Schwarzenau, Germany and the Education and Research Centre in Boxberg, Germany, researchers found that sows housed with the rubber mats had fewer abrasions to the joints and claw (foot) walls than their counterparts housed on concrete floors. Abrasions are commonly caused by sows rubbing the sides of their feet while lying down, getting up or moving their feet and legs while on their sides. More information is available at: www.kraiburg-agri.com. Wisconsin-based Agromatic (www.agromatic.net) is the U.S. distributor of the Kraiburg mats.

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