Gains in labor and animal handling efficiency make this new building design popular — but it comes with a bigger price tag.

When it comes to large production systems, it's been accepted that sows make a long trek from the gestation stall to the farrowing crate.

That's been the case until staff at the Carthage Veterinary Service (CVS) Ltd. of Carthage, IL, came up with a more efficient design to ease the relocation burden for man and beast.

Last August, the first CVS-designed, double-wide farrowing facility was built as part of a start-up operation called Lone Hollow, LLC, says Steven Hoffpauir, DVM, CVS consultant for the Augusta, IL, farm. Lone Hollow is a 5,800-sow, farrow-to-wean operation connected to breeding-gestation facilities.

“Instead of having 18 rooms all in a row down a long hallway, the double-wide unit has rooms across from each other to cover more ground faster and make it easier on the sows,” he explains.

It's a fragile time for “heavy-bred” sows. The long walk from gestation on Day 112 is strewn with feces and urine where sows may slip and slide as they tire from the long journey, says Hoffpauir.

In the new design, when it comes time to farrow, small groups of sows are brought from breeding-gestation barns that flank both sides of the farrowing facility.

Once they reach the farrowing area, workers use a herding board to walk sows, three abreast, down a spacious 7-ft.-wide central hallway that divides the two sets of nine rooms. The process works well, usually without problems or sows trying to turn around, he says. Sows enter rooms that feature four rows of 14 crates.

So far, only gilts have made the trek in this start-up herd, but the Illinois swine veterinarian says the real advantage to the shorter trek to farrowing will most likely become apparent when sows reach older parities and heavier weights, and may face lameness issues.

Walking Distance Is Halved

Steve Baker, farm manager at Lone Hollow, says instead of a ¼-mile walk from gestation to farrowing, the jaunt is about ⅛-mile, meaning groups of sows can be moved from gestation and loaded into farrowing rooms in just 30-45 minutes.

Moving time has also become more efficient at weaning. In an hour or less, sows can be returned to breeding-gestation and weaners moved straight down the hallway and out the door to waiting trucks destined for owners' finishing barns in the area.

Built into one end of the double-wide farrowing facility is Baker's office, a disinfectant chamber and an extra farrowing room that has been split in half. One half is used for a 28-crate overflow farrowing room and the other half for a 550-head nursery, he explains.

The extra farrowing room simply permits Lone Hollow to adjust pig weaning age upward a bit, says Baker.

The extra nursery provides weaning flexibility. Normally, pigs are weaned three days a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday. “This extra nursery space allows us to wean on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if we need to, and hold those weaned pigs for 24 hours until they go on the truck,” he explains.

When those additional pigs are placed in the nursery holding room, they are put on pelleted feed, says Hoffpauir. To avoid shrink from the stress of being removed from milk, it's vital to move them out quickly.

Other Building Features

Farm manager Baker points to several other features that add to the efficiency of the double-wide farrowing unit:

  • Heating and ventilation. The farrowing rooms start out at 72°F and in five days temperatures are dropped to 68°F, where they remain throughout lactation. “We can keep the rooms a lot cooler with this system because we don't have wall inlets forcing in cool air all of the time,” says Baker. Every room utilizes 16 ceiling air inlets. Air flows in through cool cells, up through the attic, down from the ceiling and across the rooms.

    Not having wall inlets, especially along a common hallway, has really enhanced air quality and the overall environment, he stresses.

    “This summer, when it was hot, instead of being cool on one side of the farrowing rooms and hot on the other, the air was pretty evenly distributed across the whole area,” which is easier to do with a double-wide building, adds Baker.

  • Heat lamps on a pulley. Heat lamps can be adjusted individually, but they are also attached to a pulley system with a crank at the end of the rows that allows each row of lamps to be adjusted at the same time. It facilitates frequent adjustment of heat lamps, and is particularly useful at weaning so workers can quickly pull the lamps up and out of the way, he explains.

  • Double-curtained south end. Adjacent to the 9-ft.-high cool cell is a 6-ft.-high curtain that comes down from the top of the wall and a 3-ft.-high curtain that comes up from the bottom, effectively limiting, but not completely closing off, needed flow of fresh air into the cool cell and the rooms.

Farrowing Performance

Farrowing performance in the new double-wide barn has been impressive, with first-parity sows averaging nearly 11 pigs born alive/litter. Weaning performance is averaging about 10 pigs/litter weighing an average of 13 lb. at 20 days of age. So far the system is achieving 24 pigs weaned/mated female/year, says Baker.

Cost Considerations

Adding building efficiencies costs extra, says Hoffpauir. Figure $40/sow space more for the double-wide farrowing design. At 5,800 sows for the Lone Hollow site, the additional cost to build is about $232,000.

The payback for efficiently handling sows, providing sow comfort and easing the workload on farrowing crews may prove to be well worth that extra cost of construction in the long run.