This article appears in the May/June issue of Pig International. View all of the articles in the digital edition of this magazine.


Having had the privilege to work with hog farmers globally, our team has seen first-hand the commonality in goals, despite the differences in location. Globally, hog producers want to improve production and lower costs while taking great care of their animals and providing a great product for the market. These three producers share their experiences with electronic sow feeding (ESF) and the tools they use to achieve the universal goals of productivity, profitability and excellent animal care:

1. Thomas Livestock Company, Broken Bow, Nebraska, United States

This particular operation was looking for tools to build into a facility expansion that would take advantage of the latest technology in the industry to meet the company’s goals. Thomas Livestock is a swine producer that has 16,000 sows and produces more than 550,000 pigs annually.

“We were interested in an electronic sow feeding system so we could compare management strategies and because our market is beginning to demand it,” says production manager Steve Horton.

At Thomas Livestock Company’s 4,000-sow Georgetown facility, gilts arrive at 21 days of age and are placed in an isolation pen, where they stay for seven weeks. Next they move into the growing facility, where each gilt is sorted by size into groups of 245. They stay in this facility for 12 weeks, during which time they are fed individually. This gives the gilts the opportunity to comingle before introducing them into the sow facility.

On the first day of gilt training, about 75 gilts from each group will walk through the ESF training system on their own. The majority of the group acclimates to the system within one week. By three weeks, the group typically has the pattern perfected.

Next, an automated gate system is used to sort gilts that are exhibiting signs of estrus. They are then brought into the breeding program.

After farrowing and weaning, second parity sows return to the group pens in 12 groups of 278 sows. Each group has access to six electronic feeding stations.

The second parity sows usually remember the system when they return after weaning. New feed is put out daily, and each sow visits the feeding station between 1.5 and 2 times per day.

2. Chanteloup Cooperative, Brittany, France

When designing a new facility to meet 2013 group housing standards in the European Union, the Chanteloup Cooperative chose an ESF system that allows them to manage sows individually even though they house them in groups. Chanteloup Cooperative is a 300-sow operation located in the epicenter of France’s swine industry, the region of Brittany.


“With the ESF stations, we can give the sows individual portions depending on their stages of gestation,” says farm manager Vincent Rincé. “That way we optimize our use of feed.”

"With the ESF stations, we can give the sows individual portions depending on their stages of gestation." – Chanteloup Cooperative farm manager Vincent Rincé

The system helps Rincé’s team simultaneously manage costs, improve production and optimize labor inputs. “These days it takes six people to do work that used to take nine,” says Rincé. “That saves us a lot of money.”

Using an ESF system frees up time so workers can more closely monitor sows and identify problems sooner.

3. Ermine Farms, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom

Meryl Ward is the owner of Ermine Farms, which is spread over three locations in Lincolnshire, England. Each operation has approximately 720 sows and raises pigs up to 35 kg (about 75 pounds). The goal is to wean 400 pigs per week.

The largest unit consists of two dynamic groups of as many as 280 sows per group managed with ESF, automated central sow separation and sow heat detection.

Ward’s staff makes widespread use of the option to allow animals to be separated into multiple groups, including separating sows from the gestation group into the farrowing house or separating sows that have been flagged by the software program as needing extra attention.

“In the past, it took nearly two hours to find a specific animal in a group,” Ward says. “The central sow separation really saves time.”

Common goals

Thomas Livestock Company, Chanteloup Cooperative and Ermine Farms are vastly different in location, but commonalities can be found in their goals and the tools used to achieve them. Facilities and management vary within and across continents, but one thing remains the same: Use of ESF and central separation have helped producers achieve their goals of productivity, profitability and excellent animal care.


Read more: 5 pointers for buying electric sow feeders