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"Consistent performance, consistent results"  

High Power Pork, the first U.S. adapter of Nedap electronic sow feeding, maintains consistent, long-term performance with group housing system.  Change equals opportunity. In some cases, change can transform a management system and alter performance, providing greater benefits than were originally anticipated.

That 's the case for High Power Pork, LLC: a 6000 sow breed-to-wean facility in La Prairie, Illinois. In 2008, a time when electronic sow feeding (ESF) was first hitting the airwaves, this facility evaluated the option of switching to group management in gestation.

The producers had several reasons for giving ESF a try:

  • One, they wanted to be on the forefront of adopting new technology in animal care and feeding.
  • Two, they wanted to see if they could provide the same level of care and achieve the same level of performance in a group setting that they already could using gestation crates.
  • And three, they recognized that forces outside of animal agriculture were going to continue to try and push for change in food animal production.

Lance Dunbar, senior production manager with Professional Swine Management, worked with the team at High Power Pork, LLC, during the transition and continues to serve as a consultant.

"The system has been in place for more than six years and we are happy with the transition, " Dunbar says. "After transitioning to the system, we have maintained production because we can watch the herd for trends and keep an eye on individual performance. "  As a consultant for several swine facilities, Dunbar is able to compare the ESF system to traditional facilities with gestation stalls.

The production results of the ESF system offer proof production can be maintained. Dunbar says the production parameters he measures and compares between the traditional barns and the one electronic sow feeding barn he manages, performance is very comparable, including consistent and similar results in:

  • Conception rates
  • Days to first breeding
  • Farrowing rates
  • Pigs born live per litter

"We 're averaging 14.5 live pigs per litter with the ESF system and sows are breeding back consistently, " Dunbar says. "It 's impressive that the group-housed sows and gilts are performing at the same level as the sows and gilts in gestation stalls. "

Individual care in a group setting

Consistent performance can be attributed to the individual computerized feeding technology of the Nedap system. Though gilts and sows are managed in groups, the system allows for individual management.  In the system, each pig receives an electronic RFID tag. The tag is scanned at the Nedap feeding station, telling the computerized feeder who she is and how much feed she needs. The allocated feed is then dispensed for the sow and the program records how much she eats.

An employee extracts that data from the computerized system each day in a report called the "Feed Balance Sheet. " This report identifies any sow who did not go to the feeder, or that did not eat all of her allocated feed. With this report in hand, the employee then can then track down each animal on the list and visually check to see if they need additional care or just simply lost a tag.   "Because each sow has an electronic ID tag, you can take a wand reader into the pen and easily identify the sow and her past performance, " Dunbar says.

 In total, one swipe of the wand reader shares the following information on each sow:  

  • Feed consumption
  • Stage of gestation
  • If she is due for breeding
  • Most recent body condition score
  • Health records

  "You also can input data on a sow right there, " Dunbar says. "If you identify a gilt that is getting a little on the heavy side, you input that information, and the computer automatically adjusts her ration based on her body condition score and stage of gestation. Her feed strategy is changed instantly and will be tracked by the computer. "  With these quick and simple adjustments, consistent body condition scores through gestation are easier to achieve.   "A big thing we can really do better than traditional systems is consistent condition, " says Dunbar. "With electronic sow feeding we can keep sows in optimal body condition all through gestation. "

Transition through teamwork

The team at Nedap played an integral role in the transition to electronic sow feeding, says Dunbar.

"The folks at NEDAP were helpful from the start, " he says. "They trained all employees before startup. They helped us identify the type of person needed in each position. And, they have taught us how to fix virtually anything that might break down. They even helped us determine what parts were critical to keep on hand. "  Along with retrofitting the facility for the new system, the Nedap team provided training to team members about the new management system. On the people side, employees were taught how to use the new technology with hands-on practice with the computer reports, electronic feeding and management system and RFID technologies. This training helped the team assign the right people in the right positions.  
"With this system, how you achieve your goals is different, " Dunbar says. "It takes the right people in the right positions, and a different type of herdsmanship. You also definitely need a technically-savvy person on your team for running reports. "

During the employee training period, each team member learned strategies for transitioning gilts into the group system. The first set of gilts to enter the facility totaled 6,000. Today, gilts and sows are housed in groups of 60. Two employees focus on training new gilts into the system.   "It takes a few days of training to get the gilts used to the new system, but they catch on pretty quickly if you have a patient team, " Dunbar has found. "When training gilts to use the electronic sow feeding system, entice them to enter the feeding station with feed and allow them to enter the system on their own. Once they know there 's feed in the station, they 'll enter on their own pretty handily. "  

"We 've learned that feeding the gilts before moving them into the new barn can help limit aggression and keep the group calm as gilts get used to their 59 new roommates, " Dunbar says.  Because of the outlined process and assistance from Nedap, Dunbar says the overall transition took only a couple months.  
"By two to three months in we were comfortable with the system and everything was pretty much running smoothly, " he says. "Employees and pigs had adapted. Both had learned how to thrive in the new system. And it 's still running smoothly today. "

 

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