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"Large groups, yet individual steering and tracking "

Toon Classens (NL)  

Nedap sorteren vleesvarkens

Pig farmer Toon Classens believes in housing finishing pigs in large groups, for his personal job satisfaction and with regard to social acceptance. He has chosen to use Nedap Pig Sorting to track and manage the individual animals in a targeted manner.

"I could watch this for hours ", says Toon Classens, as he oversees the unit. There are 250 pigs in the area. Some of them are eating, others are playing together and most of them are fast asleep. "There is much more interaction between the animals, and also between human and animal. I just think it is an excellent way to work. "

The Classens family owns both a finishing pig farm and a sow farm in Veulen, situated in the Dutch province of Limburg. Son Sjef took over the sow farm in 2010, father Toon finishes the piglets at another location two kilometres away. They had already gained experience in regard to keeping sows in large groups. "In 2000 we were among the first to make a choice for a dynamic group with Nedap feeding stations for the sows ", Toon explains. "In anticipation of legislation, which would eventually be laid down anyway, I wanted to give my successor a head start. Towards the public and also for me personally it is simply a really nice way of housing pigs. That is important to me. "

The system
In 2011 Classens built a new barn for 2,440 pigs in order to maintain control over the growing and finishing process of all the piglets from the sow farm. A choice was made for groups of 250 animals with the use of the Nedap Pig Sorting system. This system consists of a weighing unit with individual animal identification and three exits. Two exits lead to a feeding area with dry feed troughs, so that the farmer can provide two different types of feed. For example, Classens has set the system to ensure that the heaviest 40% of the pigs receive growing-finishing feed, whilst the lightest 60% in the other feeding area are given starter feed. When this group reaches a specific weight limit, the feeding station will adjust automatically. This way the group remains as uniform as possible. As the system identifies boars and gilts, the animals can be automatically separated for delivery by directing them to different exits.

Job satisfaction
Various motivations have led to the choice for this particular system. Toon left the decision mainly to his son, as after all he will eventually take over the farm. "I am very enthusiastic about the large groups of sows, I would not have it any other way ", Sjef says. "I enjoy going into the barn every day and this certainly contributed to the choice for large groups of finishers. Furthermore, we deliver our pigs under the Dutch environmental quality label "˜Milieukeur ' and with a star granted by the Better Life hallmark "˜Beter Leven '. Large groups fit in very well with this indeed. " The choice for Nedap was partly made on the basis of positive experiences gained with the feeding stations on the sow farm. "We have been cooperating with Nedap for thirteen years now and to our full satisfaction, but we certainly looked at other systems, too. "


Pig farmer Toon Classens  
"I am convinced that identification & registration and transparency will become more important in the future.  Both in regard to legislation and social acceptance".

Individual animal identification
According to Classens, an important added value of the Nedap system is the possibility of individual animal identification. "I am convinced that identification & registration and transparency will become more important in the future ", Toon says. "Both in regard to legislation and social acceptance. We must remove the finisher from anonymity through tracking and tracing from seed to table. " The ultimate aim of Classens is to be able to monitor the pigs from birth to delivery. As early as in the farrowing pen the piglets are fitted with a transponder in an ear tag to facilitate tracking of the entire process. Currently this is the main challenge: the pigs still lose the transponder too often to allow proper tracking. "Here in the Netherlands we were the first to utilise the system in this setup. We are pioneering and therefore aware that there are some initial issues to be resolved. We are now seeking a good solution for tracking the pigs throughout the process with the use of one transponder. "

Targeted selection
In addition to the positive public image the pig farmers also identify advantages in terms of management. In the first place the system provides the option to feed and manage each individual animal in a targeted manner, even within a large group. Moreover, Classens is hoping that tracking pigs from start to finish will contribute to a structural improvement of results. "The technical results within the sow farming sector are constantly improving, whilst the finishing pig farming industry is in fact stagnating. Monitoring animals from birth onwards may lead to useful indications for better selection. By the end of the process it may turn out that the sow farrowing 33 piglets every year is yielding less than the sow with 26 piglets, as that particular litter performs better in the finisher house. This information is useful in regard to the selection of sows. Once this succeeds, I think we are ready to take a major step forward. Both in social and technical terms. "




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