Herd Profile

Hog-Tied Farms Ltd. is located in Thedford, Ontario and is owned and operated by John and Joan Van Engelen and their son Mitchell and daughter Cassie. The barn is a 220 sow farrow-to-finish operation built in 1983.

Renovations for group sow housing began in 2014 with the conversion of half of the gestation room to a dynamic ESF pen. Renovations continued in late 2014-2015 to expand the group gestation pen and create a separate gestation pen for gilts. A gilt development room was also renovated to create an ESF training area for gilts. Along with the conversion to group sow housing, John Van Engelen is an industry leader in the use of innovative technologies in several other areas. The operation includes a state-of-the-art ventilation and heat recovery system, a test room for individual feed consumption monitoring of market hogs,  a 3 way auto-sort finishing system and a wind turbine for power generation. As well, John regularly participates in research projects with the University of Guelph and shares his experience at industry events.


  • 250 sow farrow-to-finish operation
  • 2 Dynamic groups with 3 ESF units
See Conversion Process


The conversion to group sow housing was completed between 2013 and 2015 in roughly three stages. This gradual conversion process allowed the barn to remain in full operation throughout the renovation with minor reductions in the sow herd, and the van Engelen’s supplied most of the labour themselves. By creating large group pens and minimizing space wastage in the new design, implementation of ESF was achieved with no loss in sow capacity, and with space allowances over 20 ft²/sow.

Slide Show of the conversion process for Hog-Tied Farms Ltd.


Before the conversion, the room contained 128 stalls for breeding and gestating sows. Stalls were removed from half of the room and left in place in the other half, to create a single gestation pen 40×40 feet. The initial renovation took place over two weeks and involved tearing out stalls, removing the raised walkways and pouring sloped concrete pads to create lying areas for sows, adding paneling around the pen and lying areas, and installation of a Nedap ESF system. The original slatted flooring was kept, and metal patches were bolted over any broken slats or rough areas. These slats will eventually be replaced. The lying areas are also sloped to reduce buildup of manure. A Nedap boar detection station was installed adjacent to the group pen, and the ESF system includes a marking and sorting alley which can be programmed to spray mark any sows that come into heat.

When training the first group of sows, it became apparent that a dedicated training area was needed for gilt development. The existing gilt development room was modified to create 2 pens separated by ESF feeder gates.  A boar exposure area is included beside the gilt training area and  includes an RFID detector to aid in heat detection.


In the fall of 2014, the group gestation area was expanded with a further 37 stalls removed. The original ESF and sorter were moved approximately 10 feet, and an additional ESF feeder was added to increase the capacity of the dynamic gestation pen from 60 to 120 sows.
A separate pen was also constructed for gilts with a single ESF feeder. Both the sow and gilt gestation areas have access to a boar pen for automated heat detection.


The group gestation pen is managed with dynamic grouping, so the number of sows within the pen varies from week to week as sows are added and removed. Each ESF feeder is capable of feeding up to 60 sows. The feeding program runs 24 hours a day with a daily re-set at 10 AM. The re-set time is programmed by the user, and 10 AM was selected so that any sows that have not eaten from the previous day can be identified and checked on before the next feed cycle begins.

For monitoring production, Van Engelen is switching to a new software system, EDI PORC, which can be directly integrated with sow records from the Nedap ESF system.

One thing he has noticed since implementing group housing is better hoof condition in sows. With stalls, a number of older sows developed long toes, especially on hind claws. Now with sows spending more time active they are showing better hoof condition.

Training of gilts on how to use the ESF feeder is important before breeding. To achieve this, van Engelen modified the gilt development room to include 2 pens separated by 2 ESF gates. Feed is provided on one side and water on the other, and gilts soon learn how to push through the gates to travel between the different areas. The gates can be tied back temporarily if gilts are still reluctant to pass through, and they soon learn to push through. Manual training is used for some gilts, but only when required. In addition to training gilts on use of the ESF feeder, it is important to ‘stall break’ them either before breeding or shortly afterwards. Otherwise, if they have no previous experience of stalls and are moved to farrowing crates at the end of gestation, gilts can experience added stress at farrowing as this will be the first time they are confined, and can result in late abortions or savaging.

More innovations at Hog-Tied Farms: