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Maternity tips

By August 1, 2022August 27th, 2022No Comments

What is the future of maternity pens?

The way farrowing crates should be built is under discussion everywhere, especially in Western Europe. In particular, the design and floor area of farrowing crates is a complex question on which there is still much uncertainty. How do I make my farrowing house future-proof, what is the best choice for the farrowing pen layout, and how do I as a pig farmer get the most out of my farrowing house with new techniques? These are recurring questions on which there is little objective and coherent information to be found. We would like to advise you about this free of charge.

I want to build my stall but what should I consider in broad terms?

Of course every entrepreneur wants to move forward instead of standing still, but they also want to build in a future-proof manner, so that not everything has to be adjusted in 5 years' time. In some countries the minimum floor area of the farrowing crate has already been laid down and there is already clarity, but in other countries there is still plenty of discussion about the frameworks to be laid down and no firm agreements will be reached in the coming years. However, what many people forget is that this discussion does not stop at national borders. For example, there are clear signals that if piglets from country A are delivered to a pig farm in country B, the piglets must also be bred in accordance with the requirements of country B. And it is not easy for pig breeders from country A to be fully aware of the requirements in country B. We can help you with this.

As a feeder manufacturer, what does VERBA know about maternity pens?

Because we, VERBA, as a Dutch pig feeder producer, work closely with farrowing house designers and research centers all over Europe, we are closely involved in this discussion and have a feeling for the direction sow farming is taking. Which farrowing system, which floor areas and which farrowing pen variants are being considered are topics that we are very much involved in from the sidelines in various European countries. By keeping our eyes and ears open and combining this information we can help you with objective information.

Which stall system should I choose?

First of all, it is important which stall system you choose. Only then can you proceed with your plans. Traditional farrowing crates are not taken into consideration. The conventional farrowing crate is less future-proof for pig farming in Western Europe and is expected to be phased out as things stand. In some countries a free-range farrowing crate is already mandatory, such as in Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Moreover, there is already a lot of experience with traditional farrowing crates, so we can add little information here. We are therefore focusing entirely on more future-proof farrowing crates and these are free-range farrowing crates.

There are two choices in free-range stall pens. You can choose either a free-range stall pen or a free-range stall rearing pen. Of course, this depends on your construction options.

They are both good systems that are future-proof, but free-range stall rearing pens are, in our opinion, the more future-proof of the two. In addition, we expect that a free-range stall rearing pen will give you a higher return on investment. We will explain why below.

With free-range farrowing crates, you move both the sow and the piglets to other crates after the farrowing period. In free-range farrowing crates, you only move the sow after the farrowing period, but the piglets stay in the same crate up to 25 kilograms. Thus, you keep the rook together and do not have to move them. A pig is a creature of habit and does not like change. Every change leads to unrest, and unrest leads to limited growth. And this difference in growth can be great. But there are more differences between free-range stall pens and free-range stall rearing pens. Below, we will give you the advantages and disadvantages of free-range stall rearing pens compared to free-range stall rearing pens.

  • More rest for the animals. You can keep the toom together in the same farrowing pen (up to 25/30kg) without having to move them to the piglet section. This gives a lot of peace and this benefits the toom and its growth, in many ways. This is a recurring benefit.
  • Peace of mind for you. Much less labor is needed because of not having to move the piglets to the piglet rearing unit. In addition, you don't have to clean farrowing pens because of the more because that link is theoretically completely out of the way. This is a recurring benefit.
  • Economic advantage. Because there is no longer a need to clean farrowing pens, you save on labor and on rinse water that ends up in the manure pit. This is a recurring benefit.
  • Investment advantage. You do not need to set up separate piglet pens. This is a one-time benefit.
  • More future-proof than free-range stall barn because of higher animal welfare due to keeping the toom together in the same pen. Also consider future measures regarding tail biting. This is a recurring benefit.

What are the main disadvantages of the free-range stall rearing pen compared to the free-range stall:

  • Due to the higher investment i.v. more required free-range stall rearing pens, this has a payback time of about 6 years. This is a one-time disadvantage.

What floor area do I need to consider for a free-range stall/ free-range farrowing pen?

The surface area of maternity pens is also a discussion in each country. Free-range stall rearing pens that have already been built are at least 6m2. However, we hear that the square footage is getting bigger instead of smaller. In Germany, the law will be a minimum of 6.5m2 per free-range farrowing pen. In addition, the number of piglets born alive continues to increase and there should also be sufficient space for them. We recommend a minimum of 7m2 per free-range farrowing pen to ensure future-proof construction. In addition, in Germany, for example, there is a requirement that there should be sufficient freedom of movement for the sow and that the piglets should be able to walk freely behind the sow. This also affects d required floor area.

What kind of floor should I have

Flooring designs are also an interesting topic with respect to farrowing pens. For example, there is not one specific floor that is suitable for free-range stall rearing but rather a combination of different floors. After all, in free-range farrowing houses we are dealing with no less than 3 different life phases of the pig, namely: farrowing pig, sow and weaned piglets. There must be a section of slatted floor but also a section of solid floor. In various countries this is often linked to certain percentages or formulas of the total floor area. In Germany, for example, the law prescribes that a certain area of solid floor must be available under the sow and that the floor may only be 7% perforated/provided with holes or gaps. The law also imposes requirements, for example in Germany, on the design of farrowing pen floors and the surface area of the lying area and closed area of piglets. For example, partially softer floors are required for the piglets in the farrowing pens. This must not be too soft, however, as this in turn has disadvantages in terms of hygiene and durability of the floor. These soft floors with good grip are quite easy to solve at an affordable price by, for example, using an Ekogrip synthetic floor plate with a 2 mm rubber top layer. We have these plastic sheets in our range and we can make them in whatever shape and size the customer wants. Also in renovation, these durable but soft plates can be laid in or on the existing floor. We also use these plates for the floor heating plates that we use for, among other things, piglet nests in the Prodromi project. These heating plates can also be supplied in custom-made versions. These heating plates are also often used in renovations when other heating plates are worn out or do not heat up properly anymore because they are not oxygen-proof. These are inexpensive solutions that you can also retrofit when renovating existing floors. Practice also teaches us that if you choose free-range stall rearing pens that it is advisable to also have a section of concrete floor in the pen. This ensures sufficient claw wear of the piglets during the rearing period so that the piglets do not leave the rearing pens with claws that are too long.

We have close contacts with floor manufacturers and suppliers of flooring and we will be happy to put you in touch with them should you require more information about them.

What equipment should I take for free-range stall pens?

There is also a difference in the design of farrowing pens between free-range farrowing pens and free-range farrowing pens. In free-range farrowing crates, for example, part of the sow pen must be foldable, whereas in free-range farrowing crates at least the entire sow pen must be foldable. Before and after farrowing, the sow must have enough freedom of movement and at least one side of the pen must be folded away. However, around the time of farrowing, the sow will need to be temporarily restrained by folding the pen completely closed.

In free-range stall rearing pens, anyway, the entire stall will need to be able to be folded up/shifted after the sow is gone, because the piglets stay behind until 25/30 kg and otherwise the stall gets in the way.

There are many systems available on the market and we hear from sow farmers about the advantages but also the disadvantages of existing models. If you have any questions about this, we can refer you to a barn manager who has the system best suited to your needs or put you in touch with a fellow sow farmer to share experiences.

What is best system of feeding and drinking in the farrowing pens?

Feeding and drinking is, in our opinion, the most important aspect in your free-range coops. The right feeding trough determines at least half of the success of your free-range farrowing house, according to our customer and ambassador Brummelhuis. The feeding system that we recommend for all free-range farrowing houses and free-range farrowing houses is the KZB farrowing house family feeding trough. Essentially, this is an oversized sow doser with closed back wall, beaded side wall and lowered feed trough equipped with a drinking nipple for the sow. The clapper hangs low so that both sow and small farrowing piglets can operate the clapper and rooting behavior is imitated. A very simple but solid system.

The sow eats from this unique KZB feeding trough with lowered feed trough during the entire period in the farrowing pen. With the clapper mechanism, the sow herself dispenses feed from the 36-liter storage bunker of the KZB feed trough. The feed trough can be steplessly adjusted so that the feed output is set per stroke of the flap. Because the sow eats at floor level, she unconsciously pushes her head against the clapper and small portions of feed keep falling in front of her. The sow herself has to take care of her food by moving the clapper. This mimics natural rooting behavior, which stimulates eating enormously, compared to a system where the sow receives feed in a trough, for which she does not have to do anything else.

The drinking nipple in the KZB trough provides the sow with sufficient water. In practice, we also see piglets drinking from the sow trough at a very early stage. Because the sow drinks much more, the water always remains fresh and is eagerly absorbed by the piglets.

We received figures in mid-2021 from a German pig farmer with conventional farrowing pens and 2 test farrowing pens with the KZB family feeder in them. The sows with KZB free-range farrowing pen feeders ate as much as 20 kilos more sow feed during the farrowing period than from the sow trough with doser. This is due to several factors such as fresher feed, the sow can easily reach the trough, the natural rooting behavior is imitated and they play with the clapper after which a reward follows. This large additional feed intake all together greatly increases the sow's milk yield which in turn benefits the piglets, who benefit from this advantage throughout their lives.

In practice, once the piglets are born, we see that they start eating from the sow's diet as early as about 4 days after birth and that the sow teaches the piglets where to get their food. This gets the piglets' saliva production going early and ensures that the intestinal flora gets used to solid food at an early stage. At a weight of about 7.5 kg, we see that on average piglets have grown up to 900 grams more than with a traditional sow trough system with doser. The piglet benefits from this excellent start for the rest of its life. There is no need to change feed for these results and this success is entirely due to the KZB feeder, it supports mother-child behavior.

Pig farmers with farrowing crates who use the KZB feeder report that the piglets gain weight 1 week earlier. Another advantage is that the sow's milk yield improves and because the piglets also eat the sow's feed, the often more expensive prestarter is also used. This has a cost-saving effect. Because the piglets are also used to solid feed, they suffer virtually no weaning dip after the farrowing period. After all, the transition from milk to solid feed has already been stimulated by the mother from day 4, so there is no sudden transition for the piglets.

If one leaves the piglets in a free-range stall rearing pen then the piglets will continue to eat from the same feeder. After all, they know where the food comes from and they can pick the piglet food out of the trough themselves by the clapper. This gives perfect results.

The sow drinking nipple is turned off and the piglets should drink from a separate drinker near the trough. VERBA can also supply drinkers for piglets or even attach them to the KZB feeder. In addition, we have farrowing pen piglet feeders with fixed trough or removable trough, which can be built into the wall and with their 10 liter storage bunker can also feed the farrowing piglets at an early stage.

Can I also use a KZB feeder in conventional farrowing pens?

The answer is simple. More and more we see that the KZB farrowing pen feeder is also used in partial renovation of existing farrowing pens, especially where trough or water pipe is worn out. The sow farmer can benefit directly from the advantages already described by changing the feeding method. Because of the durability (stainless steel) of the KZB, it can be easily fitted in later when free-range farrowing crates are being fitted out.

What is the cost of a KZB feeder?

The KZB replaces a piece of fence and wall, made of HPL (trespa) for example, and the sow trough and a separate sow drinker. These additional costs you would normally incur are almost comparable to the cost of a KZB trough. The KZB trough therefore does not have to be more expensive than a conventional system. In addition, the feeder will pay for itself quickly because of the benefits you will have with the growth of the piglets.

How solid is a KZB feeder?

The KZB feeding trough is not an expensive high tech system that is prone to failures. It is, like all our systems, a solid simple unique feeding trough that is 100% produced in The Netherlands and that does an excellent job for sow and piglet and actually leads to excellent results. We and the many users of the KZB feeder sincerely believe that there is no simpler and better feeding system for your farrowing pens than the KZB.

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of the KZB feeder over a sow doser with trough and separate drinker?

  • Much better milk yield by the sow. This is because the sow absorbs much more feed because of the sophisticated feeding mode. This is a recurring benefit.
  • Satisfied and more active sow because she can naturally eat small portions. This is a recurring benefit.
  • Fitter sow. Because the sow eats more, she also comes out of the farrowing pen "fitter" and this often benefits the development of the embryos of the next litter. This is a recurring benefit.
  • No weaning dip. Because the piglet is already snacking along with the mother after 4 days, the transition to solid feed is excellent. This is a recurring benefit.
  • In farrowing rearing piglets reach weight 1 week earlier because the transition from milk to solid feed is better. This is a recurring benefit.
  • Uniformed piglets, because they all have enough milk and because they can snack from the feeder 24/7 with the mother. This is a recurring benefit.
  • Certainly no more expensive to purchase than a separate piglet feeder, sow trough, sow drinker and finishing of the pen the trough hangs from. This is a one-time benefit.
  • Cost saving by requiring much less expensive prestarter for the piglets. This is a recurring benefit.
  • Peace of mind for you. The KZB feeder is unique and special in its simplicity. With its bead edges, the feed trough is extremely solidly made and does not give rise to malfunctions to which high-tech systems are more susceptible. Anyone can work with this system with ease and this gives you confidence and peace of mind. This is a daily recurring benefit.

Disadvantages KZB feeder compared to sow trough with doser and separate drinker:

  • The sow cannot lie down under the KZB trough as she could with a higher trough. Depending on legislation (not everywhere the space under the trough counts as freedom of movement for the sow), in some cases you will need slightly deeper pens. However, the KZB is only 210 mm deep. This is a one-time disadvantage.

Verba can and would like to share knowledge with you about free-range farrowing crates and free-range rearing crates, and about feeding and drinking in farrowing crates if you are orientating. If required, we can also introduce you to the right parties who will be excellent to help you move forward and meet your needs and requirements. We only work together with reputable stall fitters. We have no interest in referring you to a company that is not specialized in free-range stalls or a company that we do not trust. There are barn furnishings companies that really specialize in free-range stall barns and produce their own systems for it.

In addition to knowledge, Verba can provide you with information on your farrowing crates for sow and piglet, farrowing feeders, floor heating systems, soft plastic bubble plates for closed area, piglet cabins, piglet nests and drinking bowls. Do you have any questions? Please contact us! We will be glad to help you. +31 (0)413-474036 info@verba.nl

Jarno Brummelhuis talks about his choice for a free-range stall rearing pen

Verba farrowing pen products for various different farrowing pens

Jarno Brummelhuis tells about the KZB farrowing pen feeder