Delivering your hogs in the right condition is critical to getting the best price and maximizing your profits. With the implementation of pig sorting scales, farmers can accurately control a wider range of factors that affect the weight and health of their hogs while also creating a safer environment for both livestock and workers.
Automating the weighing and sorting process
Pig sorting scales target the limitations of the conventional methods of estimating the weight of livestock and then manually sorting them into pens. Finding and training labor to perform the sorting correctly is a major concern for farmers, and there's a lot of guesswork involved. Auto-sort systems accurately measure the weight of each pig and streamline the process to create a better environment for you and your staff, as well as the pigs on your farm.
How does it work?
The entire automation process is actually pretty simple, and it's easy to understand how the majority of the intensive tasks can be simplified when you use pig scales. Let’s take a look at how this works:
- Pigs enter a directed walkway that leads to the feeding zone controlled by swing gates
- A load cell tray weighs each on as it passes and communicates it to the system
- The entry gate opens and directs the pig to the correct feeding pen
- The pigs gets fed a targeted diet, according to their weight
- The systems support multiple pens or barns and automated gates sort pigs accordingly
- Pigs that have achieved the correct weight can be separated for transport
- Sick and injured pigs can be directed towards separate barns and treated
Advantages of pig scales
Weight is one of the most important factors involved, but predicting and controlling each individual pig's weight in a farm where they're housed in pens is extremely challenging. There's normally a lot of shoving, stomping and bullying, which increases the chances of injury to both livestock and humans. Here are some of the advantages that pig scales bring to the table:
- Uniformity. In a pen, heavier and larger pigs will dominate at feeding time and get progressively overweight, and smaller ones won't have much opportunity to reach the target weight. With precisely-controlled feeding mechanisms, hogs reared in a farm that uses an auto-sort pig scale tend to be more uniform in weight.
- Accurate predictions. Systems can log data and generate reports and charts, so you can analyze the progress and predict time-to-market with greater accuracy. Since the data is updated every time, you can plan your marketing well in advance and give more realistic delivery timeframes.
- Reduced labor costs. Some of the most labor-intensive tasks can be automated and your operating costs can be significantly lowered. Some estimate the savings to be in the vicinity of up to $2,000 annually on a 1,000-pig farm.
- Improved diet. With a system that tracks changes between feeding cycles, you can fine-tune the diet you're feeding your hogs. The effects of even minute changes can be compared across the passel, and different feeding cycles and compositions analyzed. With this information you can precisely adjust the diet to your hogs' preference.
- Timely feed withdrawal. The auto-sort can be programmed to sort pigs that are ready to be shipped into a separate pen automatically. The last feeding cycle can be adjusted, depending on the estimated shipping time.
- Safety. Manually herding can be stressful for the hogs and it poses a serious risk of injury, both to workers and livestock. Since direct human interaction is limited, workplace injuries should reduce significantly. Padded rails and gates in the walkways prevent injuries from impacts and bumps.
- Disease control. Once the pigs are familiar with the system, there's a lot less squeezing and biting. If one of them is sick or injured, they can be separated from the passel easily.
- Worker satisfaction. Your staff will be much happier working in a safer environment, and job satisfaction increases productivity. Additionally, since there's less direct contact with the hogs, chances of illnesses are lower.
- Lower DOA. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found fewer pigs reared on an auto-sort farm were dead on arrival (DOA), or died in holding pens. They attribute this to the hogs' pre-conditioning to walking in lines and being acclimated to being in larger groups.
Pre-considerations and potential drawbacks
While the benefits are clear, you should realize that pig sorting scales aren't the right choice for everyone. If you're used to a hands-on approach, using data and numbers to monitor progress can take some getting used to. Here are some of the potential drawbacks and limitations which you should consider carefully:
- Cost. The systems are expensive, and unless your farm supports enough hogs, it could take a while to see any real returns from your investment. Revamping existing structure or building new ones can cost upwards of $10,000, and you may need to modify other sections to be compatible. To resist corrosion from animal waste, the exposed parts must be of stainless steel, which can get pricey too.
- Reliability and downtime. These systems have a lot of moving parts that require periodic service and repairs. If your farm isn't in the regular service area of your provider, travelling between your farm and the repair center can increase down-time significantly, and result in higher bills.
- Learning curve. You're not just going to be investing money, but time too. You and your staff will have to be trained to operate the machinery and perform regular maintenance and cleaning. Even the pigs will need to be trained on the new system for feeding. Expect at least some errors in the initial stages.
- Lack of credible data. You have to understand that these systems are relatively new and there's little by way of data and field tests. While the limited research suggests it'll be well worth the investment, you'll still have to carefully consider how it'll benefit you and the returns you can earn.
The bottom line on pig scales
Pig scales and sorters systems are available in a wide range of specifications and handling capacities. Depending on your requirements and budget, you can choose a system that suits your unique requirements. Some tasks will still need to be done manually, but the majority can benefit from the accuracy and efficiency of auto-sort equipment. At least for the foreseeable future, nothing can replace the keen eye and instinct of an experienced farmer. However, modern technology, mechanization and accurate weighing systems provide tools that can make pig farming easier, safer and above all, more profitable.