How to train gilts for electronic sow feeding systems

Gilt training sets the stage for success for every sow in your herd. Thoroughly-trained gilts develop into comfortable and productive sows in group gestation pens with electronic sow feeding (ESF).

Good gilt training can minimize stress and aggression among your gestating groups. Low-stress gestation pens support maximum feed intake and healthy activity. | Nedap
Good gilt training can minimize stress and aggression among your gestating groups. Low-stress gestation pens support maximum feed intake and healthy activity. | Nedap

Gilt training sets the stage for success for every sow in your herd. Thoroughly trained gilts develop into comfortable and productive sows in group gestation pens with electronic sow feeding (ESF). If you are seeking ways to improve sow performance in your operation, consider a thorough review of your gilt training protocols.

Gilt training isn’t difficult, and planning for it shouldn’t be either. When thinking about your gilt training process, ask yourself two things:

  1. Are my protocols easy for my people to use?
  2. Are the steps I’ve designed easy for my gilts to follow?

Even if you think you’re doing everything right in gilt training, it can be worth taking a hard look at your protocols. Good gilt training can minimize stress and aggression among your gestating groups. Low-stress gestation pens support maximum feed intake and healthy activity.

You want to do everything you can to keep your sows comfortable and eating well, and gilt training is one way to help them.

Are my gilt training protocols easy for my employees?

When writing or reviewing gilt training protocols, think about the people who will be using them. Do they make sense to the people who are using them? It sounds simple, but even the best of us sometimes write instructions that look great on paper but don’t work well in practice. Get input from your employees or someone outside your operation who has experience with gilt training.

If your gilt trainers understand why they are doing something, they are less likely to take shortcuts.

Finally, be sure your employees understand the “why” behind the protocols. Explain the importance of each step. If your gilt trainers understand why they are doing something, they are less likely to take shortcuts. Consistency is vital to gilt training, so you want to be sure no one is skipping steps or combining two steps into one.

Many operations develop one or two gilt specialists as trainers, which is a good practice, but not a necessity. Other facilities find success when almost everyone on the team has been trained to work successfully in the gilt pens.

Are my gilt training protocols useful for my gilts?

This question sounds like a no-brainer. But, again, it’s easy to write protocols which look good on paper but don’t function well in the barn.

Gilt training works best when gilts learn one thing every day. We are working with several producers who have found a two-week gilt training program is optimal. With a two-week plan, gilts learn something new every day including opening the feeder gates, moving into feeding position and using their ear tags. A training program thoroughly outlining the steps in the correct order will help gilts learn quickly how to use the feeders.

Untrainable or surly teenagers?

Some industry experts have reported 10 percent of gilts cannot be trained to use ESF. We work with one producer in the United States who says fewer than 1 percent of his gilts don’t adapt well to ESF. This individual describes these gilts as “non-competitive” rather than “untrainable.” Like surly teens, the gilts don’t want to put in the effort to use the feeders.

Read more: 3 pig producers share electronic sow feeder experiences

For example, in our ESF system, the pen is designed to prevent sows or gilts from immediately re-entering feeders when they exit. The sows have to walk the length of the pen and back to reach the feeder gates. Non-competitive gilts and sows tend not to want to take the walk.

Keep it simple

A good gilt training program is one way to optimize sow performance in facilities with ESF. The best gilt training protocols are easy for employees to use and understand. They also are designed to keep training simple and consistent for gilts.

When is the last time you reviewed your gilt training protocols? Are they working as well in the pens as you expected? Could they be better?

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