HyLife is headquartered in La Broquerie, Manitoba and is the largest hog production company in Canada and among the top 15 in North America. In the fall of 2016, Richard Taillefer, Michelle Martel and the HyLife staff embarked on their first major project with group housing, converting a 3000 sow farrow-to-wean gestation barn to an ESF operation…
HyLife is headquartered in La Broquerie, Manitoba and is the largest hog production company in Canada and among the top 15 in North America. In the fall of 2016, Richard Taillefer, Michelle Martel and the the Hylife staff embarked on their first major project with group housing, converting a 3000 sow farrow-to-wean gestation barn to an ESF operation using the Jyga Gestal 3G system. The Rosco farm is a prototype for the other sow barns in HyLife’s production system, serving as a learning experience and example for future barn conversions. Production data before and after the conversion are included in Table 1 below.
The expectations were high and the challenges with this conversion were many. The number one goal was to provide their staff with a safe work environment while maintaining a high standard of animal welfare for the sows in the loose housing system. The company wanted a feeding system that was easy to use and easy to maintain. Additional goals included designing a loose housing system that would maintain the same number of sows while giving sows ample space, maintaining the production of weaner pigs during the conversion, and keeping biosecurity protocols in place during the course of renovations. Travel to European farms and interviewing several ESF manufacturers, along with staff meetings and input, was all part of the research and planning process done by HyLife before deciding on a final system and barn design.
Rosco staff experimented with some smaller projects, removing some stalls and creating a small number of group pens with shoulder stalls to see how the sows would co-mingle, and if the floor/slats and ventilation would be an issue when sows were more active. These initial projects were successful and gave barn staff experience on what to expect when managing groups. Many barn conversions are done using depopulation and repopulation (Depop-Repop) to allow construction crews full access to the barn, without any biosecurity risk. Once the construction is completed, the barn is disinfected and the new herd is introduced. However, depop-repop renovations are costly as the operation will have major production and economic losses while the barn is under renovation.
HyLife’s plan was to avoid depopulation and keep pig production flowing while the barn was renovated. This was accomplished partly by luck: an empty 900 head sow barn near the Rosco facility was used to accommodate 800 bred sows (4th and 5th parity animals), making room in the barn for renovations to proceed. The renovation schedule then progressed in 3 stages, with sows shifted from room to room as the work progressed. At the offsite barn, the weaned pigs continued to flow through HyLife’s production system, and to maintain biosecurity, the sows were culled rather than returning them to the Rosco barn. New replacement gilts were brought in as the renovations were completed, bringing herd numbers back up to 3000 by the end of the project. The renovations were done in three main gestation areas. Before each area was renovated, a secure wall was erected to act as the biosecurity barrier between the barn and construction areas.
It took a lot planning and reconfiguration of feed lines and other services but the system worked smoothly: construction crews were able to work in one section of the barn, while sows were being fed and bred in the other. When the renovation was complete, the area was washed and disinfected and sows and gilts were introduced into the newly completed section of the barn. This process was repeated 3 times and over approximately 5 months, and has worked extremely well.
The gestation area under renovation was 403’ long X 134’ wide. It had partial and fully slatted flooring. A total of 1,680 stalls were converted to 15 pens of 48 sows and 20 pens of 48 sows. Another 1,064 stalls and pen places were kept for weaning and breeding. The new group pen contains three Gestal feeders positioned midway along the alley wall of the pen. The pen layout includes a raised solid middle section that runs the entire length of the pen, with the solid area sloped toward the slatted floors on either side.
There are several partition walls located around the back and side of the pen that act as barriers, forming multiple ‘bedroom’ areas , which gives sows a place to lie down or escape from aggressive sows. Each pen of 48 sows is a static group for that gestation, and a small isolation pen can be made in one corner by installing a spindle gate, if needed. Keeping a lame or injured sow in the pen, but isolated from the group means it is easy to remove them if necessary and helps to minimize aggression when the sow recovers and is re-introduced to the group.
The gestation pens also include several walk-through partitions, so staff can easily walk the length of the barn, or enter any group pen, without having to open a gate or climb over a pen wall.
Some sections of the floor are capped with new concrete. The solid floors were sloped towards the slats with a one inch lip left above the existing slatted floor.
The ventilation system and inlets were not changed.
The first group of over 700 gilts and sows was trained to the Gestal feeders without any major issues. The computer readout showed that a majority of sows entered the feeder within the first day of it being in operation. Staff only had to show a small percentage of animals how to access the feeder. This was done by dropping feed in front of the sow as they helped to guide/coax her into the feeder. Once in the feeder, the end gate closes and the gilt receives a small amount of feed and can back out of the stall on their own. For most sows and gilts that needed coaxing to enter the feeding stalls, very few needed any help to use the feeder on the following day.
Table 1. Rosco herd Production Data before and after barn renovations. Note: Lower performance numbers after renovation are due mostly to smaller herd inventory, which was being rebuilt.
|Stalls (April 1-June 30, 2016)||Groups (March 1-May 30, 2017)|
|Number of Serves||2008||1768|
|Return Serves (%)||6.9||7.0|
|Conception Rate (%)||91.8||93.0|
|Removal Rate (%/yr)||45.8||38.5|
Click on the image to see an expanded view of the final gestation layout.
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