Economics of barn renovation
A critical aspect of barn conversions is the cost of construction. These costs can vary greatly, from under $500/sow to over $1,000/sow place, depending on the type of feeding system adopted and whether or not the flooring and manure pits require upgrading. The number of sows which can be accommodated is another key consideration, as some group feeding systems require more space per sow than conventional stalls. This is one reason for the popularity of large group ESF systems- they make very efficient use of floor space, resulting in similar sow numbers per square foot when converting from stalls to groups.
Convert or build new?
Depending on the size, age and condition of the existing barn, the first decision is whether to renovate or build new. Another option is to renovate with an addition for gestation. Some sites also modify the barn use, for example changing a farrow-to-finish site to farrow-to-wean, which can allow expansion of the sow herd. See Agri-Marche site.
Assessment of barn condition should be done by a qualified builder, with particular attention being paid to support walls, roofing trusses and areas where dry rot may be present due to poor ventilation and condensation build-up. If there are any structural concerns, these must be addressed and the increased cost or shortened life span may rule out a renovation. Also, the effectiveness of ventilation and drainage of manure pits should be evaluated to determine if these require changes to accommodate sows in groups.
The choice of feeder system is a critical one. While competitive feeding systems, such as floor feeding or shoulder stalls, are generally much cheaper to install initially, they can require more floor space, more hands-on management and more feed per sow in the long term. In contrast, non-competitive systems (Electronic Sow Feeders, Free-access stalls, or Free-access ESF) are more expensive to install, but provide individual sow feeding and easier management in the long term.
The table below gives a general comparison of the cost and features of each feed system.
Feed System Options- at a glance…
|Feeding System||Floor type||Floor space requirement||Cost||Management input|
|Floor feed||Some solid area required||Low||Low||High|
|Shoulder stall||Solid floor, partial or fully slatted||Med||Low||High|
|ESF||Solid floor, partial or fully slatted||Low||Med||Med|
|Free-Access||Partial or fully slatted||High||High||Low|
Smaller herds will often opt for small group pens with floor feeding or shoulder stalls, as often existing feed lines can be used, and the conversion can be done by the producer at a low cost. However, these competitive feeding options do require more hands-on management in the long run, including careful formation of sow groups to match for size and parity so sows can compete equally for feed, as well as daily monitoring during feeding to ensure that all sows are up and feeding, and to remove any ‘drop outs’ to a comfort pen. Overall, the competitive systems require greater feed usage, as sows are overfed to give less competitive sows access to sufficient quantities of feed.
Cost information is being collected for each farm under study in the NSHCP, and will be added here. Basic cost information will be presented for Barns in Operation, and more detailed information will be given for Barn Conversion Examples.
Economic information: Resources
Manitoba Pork and the University of Manitoba have developed computer software for estimating barn conversion designs and costs. The Conversion Design Utility allows producers to quickly generate designs and cost estimates for converting their existing sow barns to group housing. For a copy of the software, producers should contact Manitoba Pork at 204-237-7447. – See more at: Conversion Design Utility
The Quebec Centre for the Development of Swine (CDPQ) and Quebec Council for Agricultural Development have also produced a report in 2014 on the costs related to building group housing and converting barns. The full report “Évaluation de l’impact économique des exigences de bien-être animal sur les coûts de construction et de rénovation des bâtiments ainsi que sur la rentabilité des élevages porcins au Québec” is available in French: . The English version is available on request from: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Brian Buhr, an agricultural economist at Michigan State University, completed an economic evaluation in 2010, titled, “Economic Impact of Transitioning from Gestation Stalls to Group Pen Housing in the U.S. Pork Industry”.