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"Group housing on straw with electronic sow feeding; it feels like the only correct choice "

"We have had Nedap Electronic Sow Feeding for more than 20 years. Last year we switched to the new Nedap Electronic Sow Feeding on the Nedap Velos technical platform.
The old sow operated feeding stations were good, but the new Electronic Sow Feeding system with mechanical entrance is even better, better than I anticipated. The security in the stations and the separation area are particularly good.  If there are too many sows in the central passage to the separation unit or in the separation area the feed stations are locked and the system sounds an alarm. We simply reactivate the system when all sows are out. You have confidence that it works and is secure. This also gives us peace of mind ", says Meryl Ward.

Group housing on straw with Nedap Electronic Sow Feeding
Meryl Ward is the owner of Ermine Farms and the pig farming enterprise is split over three locations in Lincolnshire, England.   Each company has approximately 720 sows and produces pigs up to 35 kg.   In 1996 Meryl installed  the first Nedap feeding stations for group housing  in loose housed straw yards.
Sam, farm manager at the largest  sow unit, ensures, together with a team of 6 staff members, that the intended objectives of Meryl are achieved. This unit near Lincoln consists of two dynamic groups with Electronic Sow Feeding, central Sow Separation and Sow Heat Detection. The first group has four feeding stations. The sows are introduced here during their second parity. In this way they can get used to the feeding stations and separation. The larger group consists of approximately 280 sows with 6 Electronic Sow Feeding Stations, central Sow Separation and Sow Heat Detection.

Set objectives are reached
Sam has worked for 3 years as farm manager at Meryl Ward ´s company. "Meeting the intended objectives gives real satisfaction. " It ´s always great to do something well ". Before joining Ermine Farms he had experience of working with group housing on slatted floors. Sam: "The largest difference between straw and slatted floors is that straw is more animal-friendly.

The sows in these yards are in better condition, much calmer and less aggressive towards each other. This is most likely due to the fact that they eat a lot of the straw resulting in increased contentment and better digestive health.

" My preference is for keeping breeding sows in group housing on straw. "

Calmness  during the introduction  new sows into the group
"Introducing sows into the group is always carried out in a calm way " says Sam: "We try to introduce 20 to 30 sows into the group  at a time. There are no issues between them as there is adequate room for all animals. The rest of the time there is hardly any aggression between the animals in the group, naturally there are always a few dominant sows, but thanks to the big space the atmosphere always remains quite  relaxed. "

Focus board

To allow the communication between the various departments and staff members to proceed well, there is a focus board in the canteen. The progress of the   unit is recorded here.  Any production issues are marked in red and the whole team meet to resolve them.

Good, reliable, and easy to use  system
A year ago Meryl Ward 's company made the decision to upgrade to the latest Nedap ESF system. The integration of the  system with the new Nedap mechanical feed stations and software  proceeded very smoothly. The biggest challenge was retagging the sows.  
Meryl: "We have used the new Nedap system for a year now and it has made a great impression on us. It is a good, reliable, and easy to use  system. It 's user friendly and the staff have found it easy to operate  You can easily observe and print out reviews  of the whole group, or just the individual animal  This means that any issues within the group can be quickly identified and dealt with. "

In Meryl Ward 's company, central Sow Separation is used in obth dry sow groups. Initially this was only installed in the largest group. "I did not believe in it at first,  but after the first separation unit  was installed I was instantly sold.  Almost immediately I ordered another separation unit for the second group "   states Meryl.
Sam adds: "We make widespread use of the option to allow animals to be separated, for instance on days we are putting sows in the farrowing house. In addition if an animal requires attention for any reason , you can have her separated at the next visit to the feeding station. The ID-check in the central Sow Separation is very handy. Any sows that have lost their ear tags are automatically spray marked and  immediately separated. In the past it took nearly two hours to find a specific animal in a group. The central Sow Separation really saves time. "

History and future plans
The original sow unit was founded in 1970  by Meryl Ward 's father in Lincoln. In the early years the farm at Waddinghamhad 220 sows. The  progeny  were initially  finished as fattening pigs. A few years later another unit  was built with  space for 300 sows.   In 1990 the choice was made to switch from individual sow stalls  to group housing on straw with Nedap Electronic Sow Feeding. A new yard was built to as the new dry sow housing.  The original  sow housing  was converted and is currently used as a farrowing house.

Today there are approximately 750 sows and progeny weighing up to 35 kilo at the Lincoln unit.

Meryl also runs "Uncle Henry 's " farm shop, where their own pork is sold.

In the future Meryl wishes to scale-up all three locations to 1000 sows. "We are currently assessing how we should design the various companies to achieve this. We will require additional feeding stations. In addition we want to design a training area for new sows and gilts and will do this with pre-training and normal training stations. We also want farrowing pens with free access for all sows in the farrowing area. We are already running tests with this, but we wish to expand ", concludes Meryl.


The working week at Meryl Ward 's sow unit:

                              Sunday afternoon:
Look for signs of heat in sows weaned the previous week and instruct the system to separate them.
All sows with sow heat marking that are separated on Sunday, are inseminated. In addition the sows in the group are checked. If animals have an important attention , these are located with the hand-held V-scan. Required actions are carried out.
This day is comparable with Monday. The separated animals are checked and treated where necessary.
Progeny that are old enough are weaned. The aim is to wean 400 piglets a week.
Cleaning day of the farrowing pens. These are completely cleansed and prepared for the next group of sows. On Thursday morning the weaned piglets are moved to follow on accommodation and housed until they weigh 35 kilos. At this point they are relocated to another unit for finishing.
Sows ready to farrow are moved to the farrowing pens.
                              Saturday and Sunday morning:
The sows are checked. In addition all the daily basic jobs are carried out.



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