As loose housing becomes standard practice across gestation facilities, it is only a matter of time until the market will demand loose-housed farrowing sows with litters. That’s the opinion of Brett, Jamie and Carl Israel of Carl Israel Farms Ltd. in Mapleton Township, Ont., one of two winners who shared the 2019 F.X. Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production at the Banff Pork Seminar. Here in their own words are the reasons for their idea.
On paper the transition to loose-housed farrowing sows makes sense. However, a major issue facing producers transitioning farrowing operations to loose housing pens from traditional confinement crates is the issue of inadvertent crushing.
In some instances, piglet-crushing rates can be as high as 50 per cent. Piglets born in these settings have a very difficult time finding the safe creep areas, as in most cases the total loose-housed farrowing pen is significantly larger than conventional farrowing crates.
Having recently transitioned to organic pork production, our operation faced this very issue.
Our farrowing pens are 9×9 ft. in size, with the sow able to freely move around then pen. Upon our first organic sows farrowing we immediately identified that our mortality rates were impacting our bottom line and piglet well-being.
Out of pure desperation we took left over building materials from our recent barn construction, and fastened together a triangular plastic divider that slides over our pen creep dividers. The divider establishes a defined safe creep area under the heat lamp away from the reach of the sow.
Upon farrowing, we collect all piglets and place them in the protected creep area. We wait until the sow is settled and calls for the pigs, then we release the piglets to nurse. We repeat this process over the litter’s first 48 hours, ensuring that every time we enter the farrowing rooms we immediately secure the litter before the sow becomes unsettled.
By utilizing our creep protection device we have developed a process for training piglets to find the creep area, significantly improving our weaning rates. We have effectively increased our weaning rate by one piglet per sow per litter. Additionally, our divider wall provides a handy means of securing piglets for castration, saving considerable time.
Ensuring that producers meet the changing demands of consumers requires on farm innovation. We are proud of our tool, and are confident that it’s easy to make recycled nature could be adopted by producers across the industry.