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Information on global poultry, pig and animal feed markets.
Sow Group Housing
on August 9, 2012

Sow and piglet housing becoming more automated, high-tech

Pig equipment systems are evolving to meet future abattoir, processor and retailer demands for farm-to-fork traceability.

Sow and piglet housing is becoming more high-tech as the industry focuses on automation and newly developed materials. Upcoming pig housing technologies will be particularly 

noticeable in Western Europe, where environmental regulations, animal welfare, consumer demands, labor costs and evolving pig genetics are driving change.
These pig housing advancement are likely to shape the future of pig accommodations in other regions, as well.

Eliminating odor, ammonia

As far as the environment is concerned, the managing director of Big Dutchman Pig Equipment, Magnus Westerkamp, commented the goal to eliminate odor and ammonia emissions and reduce the release of other greenhouse gases across the EU is forcing companies to develop new ventilation systems for pig producers. They are also looking at new materials to meet the latest fire protection regulations, particularly in Germany.

Westerkamp also said new-style accommodation will be needed to provide pigs with more space in all stages of growth to meet future animal welfare and consumer demands, as well as changes in pig genetics, particularly future sows bred to produce more piglets. “These sows and piglets will all have to be handled easily, which will have an effect on the sort of equipment and the type of housing that are used in the future,” he said.

“We are also going to need better solutions for pig manure handling in future. This is a huge environmental problem that has to be solved. We believe that in future, slurry will be used close to where it is produced and farmers will not be allowed to transport it over long distances. It will have to be separated and solid parts used to produce biogas, or palletized. We have to find a solution for this.”

Westerkamp commented that bigger pig farms of the future would need new equipment to collect data from all areas of production so they could provide statistics to satisfy future abattoir, processor and retailer demands for a farm-to-fork trail.

Farm labor costs

High-tech pig housing may not decrease farm labor costs. Because while there might be fewer workers on pig farms because of increased automation and computer controlled programs, the workers will have to be highly skilled technicians to master the complex machinery.

Westerkamp is expecting to see a big revolution in pig equipment over the next few years. He predicts that some small pig farmers are likely to quit at the end of 2012, because they don’t have enough money to invest in equipment and housing to meet these new demands. On the other hand, many medium-sized pig producers are waiting to see what happens.
Medium-sized pig farmers could all be in for some surprises, according to British Pig Executive, Environment Program Manager, Nigel Penlington. “It’s time to start designing pig farms for the technology we have today – and expect for tomorrow – rather than try to fit modern equipment into existing farms,” he said. 

This includes using modern materials and construction techniques to deliver more sustainable and affordable pig buildings that are designed and built (at the factory) to accommodate the equipment and technology needed to meet high welfare and health needs of pigs and their keepers. These pig units also must use resources with maximum efficiency and protect the environment – a step beyond the pre-fabricated techniques, which were considered by some to be “revolutionary” in the past.

“I know it sounds a bit ‘whacky,’ but I think the pig industry should consider rectangular walls instead of straight ones to improve air flow with rounded corners to aid cleaning and avoid dirt traps,” says Penlington. “Walls and floors made from, or coated with low-adhesion materials, or with special coatings to reduce ammonia and self-sterilize. In addition, the roofs could be shaped to optimize air flow and incorporate low back pressure bio-filters to remove aerial contaminants.”

Robotic pigpen

Penlington even suggests a robotic “pig pen friend” to perform stock husbandry functions, including keeping walls and floors clean, monitoring and cleaning feeders and drinkers, monitoring the building’s atmosphere, recording pig growth and health, providing interest for the pigs and sounding alarms when necessary. All the information this robot collects could be relayed to a smart phone or tablet so pig producers could see what was happening in the unit, he explained.

As far as energy is concerned, Penlington suggests that modern pig buildings should have solar thermal panels to provide hot water. They should also have solar PV panels to generate electricity and ground source heat pumps for heating and cooling buildings and floors for pig comfort and optimum lying and dunging behavior. He also recommends a wind turbine to generate electricity.

Renewable energy is the way forward, if the location and conditions are right, because it enables pig producers to fix their energy costs, as well as earn some extra cash by selling excess power to the National Grid.

“Let’s start again, gather in all the research and development already done in this area, look at the costs and get to work,” he said.

Both Penlington and Westerkamp urge large pig producers to start planning their future investments to include the construction of new buildings with modern, high-tech equipment now, so they stay on top of all the changes that are likely to come and enjoy future prosperity.

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