Custom meals, social hour and naps – #MomLife in the pig barn with electronic sow feeders
As a swine veterinarian, I work to support pig farmers by helping to provide the best possible care to their pigs. Specifically, I take care of sows (mother pigs) during breeding, pregnancy and nursing. Part of my job is to help farmers create an environment that promotes pig health and well-being. One piece of technology that can assist farmers caring for sows is electronic sow feeders (ESF).
Electronic sow feeders are popular in Europe and are slowly making their way to U.S. farms. Traditionally, pregnant pigs have been placed in individual stalls where feed is directly supplied to them by farmers. Individual stalls have helped ensure pig health and proper nutrition by eliminating competition for food, but they have limited the sows’ ability to socialize and move around.
Pigs relax in an open pen and decide when it’s time to eat. Individual pigs enter the feeding stall and a door locks behind the pig to prevent mealtime competition from others.
The pig’s ear tag is scanned by the feed machine and a personalized amount of food drops down. Once the pig is finished eating, she pushes through a door that leads back to the open pen.
Then the first door unlocks so the process can start again with the next hungry pig.
A few years ago, Sandy Creek Lane’s barn was custom built with the pigs’ well-being in mind and included electronic sow feeders and open pens. It takes our pigs about two to three weeks of training to get used to ESF. We help guide them into the feeding stall with food and water, where they are able to eat their meals in peace.
We have a computer in a room just outside the pen where we are provided daily reports. This report shows us the amount of feed every pig has eaten. The ESF technology allows us to track the feed consumption of each pig, just as we track the feed consumption of sows in stalls without the aid of the technology. When caring for pigs, it is important to keep an eye on how much sows are eating since a change in appetite can be one of the earliest indicators of illness or injury. As caregivers, we enjoy watching their feeding patterns through the system and being able to monitor every pig’s health on a personal basis.
When the pigs aren’t eating, the open pen allows for movement and social interaction. Pigs are naturally social creatures and like to lie in close physical contact with each other. They tend to lie down in rows within small nooks in the pen, designed for those after-dinner naps. Although social, food is always a source of competition. ESF helps to reduce this problem by only allowing one pig to eat at a time.
Our Illinois farm is packed full of interesting features that make it sustainable and safe for our pigs. If you’re curious, check out this fact sheet about our construction process and the benefits our farm was able to bring to our community.