An Alternative Approach for Smaller Farrowing Units

Michael Yacentiuk P.Ag., Swine Specialist

In an effort to incorporate the newest production methods such as all-in, all-out, phase-feeding and split-sex feeding, finishing units are demanding their suppliers deliver feeder pigs in ever increasing larger single-source group sizes within a relatively narrow time span. Finishing hog producers have noticed the advantages these new technologies have to offer namely: better animal performance, less antibiotic use, more accurate record-keeping and the availability of larger groups of pigs for sale to the pork processing industry. However, these requests are challenging smaller farrowing units. Consequently, farmers unable to supply feeder pigs in groups of sufficient size and quality are finding it increasingly difficult to sell feeder pigs to these buyers.

However, an option does exist that attempts to address the changing demands of the market place and approaches the advantages experienced by larger farrowing facilities. The concept of batch farrowing is not new and is presently employed in many parts of the world. In an effort to increase group sizes of pigs this concept shifts farrowing from the common weekly practice to an event that occurs every three or four weeks; with the end result of increasing feeder pig group sizes. The most common approach, due to the pig's biology, is a three-week farrowing cycle, weaning at four weeks and utilizing seven groups of sows. In essence, the tasks of farrowing, weaning and breeding are sequentially performed in only one of the three weeks within the cycle before it is repeated. More intensive variants of this concept reduce weaning age to three weeks in an effort to better utilize farrowing facilities.

As with any system, there are advantages and disadvantages with the batch farrowing method. The main advantage is the availability of larger pig group sizes and the performance benefits that can accrue. Depending on current barn layouts, nursery and finishing units may require modifications in order to accommodate increased batch sizes and take advantage of the aforementioned production methods such as all-in, all-out pig flow.

The focusing of tasks to certain predetermined weeks can be viewed as desirable from a labour perspective. Less labour-intensive weeks can be used to plan activities outside the swine facilities. On the other hand, a concentration of the workload during other times of the cycle and the lack of a regular weekly routine may not be viewed as desirable by all individuals. Activities such as washing, farrowing, processing piglets and breeding may require extra labor. The availability of family labor during these periods would be extremely valuable.

With breeding occurring every three weeks, the use of artificial insemination is necessary to accommodate the greater number of sows. Training programs on insemination techniques and supplies are generally offered by the AI stations in Manitoba. The timely introduction of replacement gilts usually coincides with the weaning weeks and must be managed properly to ensure the continuation of an uninterrupted pig flow.

As the shift from a weekly farrowing to a batch farrowing system will take over half a year to accomplish careful planning and fore thought is required. However, the system does offer advantages to smaller farrowing units wishing to incorporate some of the technologies common to the larger swine units.

For additional information on this or any other swine production system, contact you nearest Manitoba Agriculture and Food swine specialist.