The target of 30 pigs weaned per sow is now starting to become a reality in some parts of the world, notably Denmark and France, where highly prolific sows have been developed. In North America, only a few producers consistently achieve this level of breeding herd performance and, for most, it has taken a long time to get there.
To reach 30 pigs per sow from a standing start in just 12 months seems nothing short of impossible; but that is
exactly what Martin Waldner and his team have done at Hartland Hutterite Colony, near Bashaw, Alberta, Canada, where a new 800-sow farrow operation was set up in 2008. The first gilts were bred at the end of February 2008 and by January 2009, the herd records showed that the 30 pigs per sow milestone had been reached.
Unlike most new barns, the unit was designed for high performance from the start. “We based everything on 12 pigs weaned per sow and the nursery and finisher rooms were sized accordingly,” explains Martin Waldner. Not only that, but the new facility is equipped with the latest technology in feed manufacturing, feeding, environment and pig care. So, what was the route to such an impressive achievement?The starting point for such high performance is the gilt, Waldner believes. Hartland breeds its own F1 gilts from pure Landrace females mated to a Large White boar, while the initial stocking and some subsequent replacement was done with F1 gilts.
The unit has eight nursery rooms, each with two pens of 200 pigs. At the end of each batch, rooms are washed and left to dry for at least 24 hours. “It’s really important that the pens are clean and dry before pigs are brought in and we always ensure that the room temperature is at least 27˚C,” comments Waldner.
The first few days after weaning are critical, he believes. “We monitor the pigs very closely for the first day, making sure there is feed and water in the bottom of all the feeder pans. Rooms get checked by walking through at least three times a day.” In a system with large groups of pigs, it’s essential that sick or disadvantaged pigs are removed promptly, he emphasises.
Waldner is convinced that water intake is the most critical aspect of getting pigs off to a good start. The 12 wet/dry feeders in each room have two nipple drinkers each over a water trough each side of the feed tray. In addition, there are 12 hanging water nipples per room. “It is very important during the first two or three days to make sure that pigs know where the water is,” he stresses. We provide additional water troughs for the first three days until the pigs find that there is water at the feeder too.” Hanging water nipples are adjusted once a week with a hand winch so the height is at the shoulder level of the smallest pig in pen. The equipment used for feeding allows a series of four diets to be delivered through the same feed line. “There is an air valve on the line above each feeder, which opens up to deliver the correct feed for the age of pigs in the pen,” Waldner explains. “When all the feeders are full and feed starts coming back through the feed line, the feed line is automatically emptied and the next diet is fed.”
At the end of each row of pens is a 5.5 m wide shipping pen for selected slaughter pigs over 115 kg. Pigs are diverted into this pen the afternoon prior to shipping and have access to water but not feed until they are shipped the following morning.
The finishing system challenges conventional thinking on mixing pigs, or rather not mixing pigs, yet there is no doubt that it works extremely well. The most surprising thing is that there seems to be no aggressive behaviour or indication of injuries due to fighting. “When you see pigs that don’t know each other interacting, they seem to just peck at each other, then one backs off and they go their separate ways,” Waldner notes. The impressive performance at all stages of production in the unit is clearly achieved through the hard work and dedication of Martin Waldner and his five-man team, only two of whom had previously worked with pigs. Their success is well deserved.
The Hutterites or Hutterian Brethren, are a communal people living in colonies throughout the prairies in North America. They emerged as a distinct culture and religious group in the early 16th century and first settled in North America in 1874. Each Hutterite colony has between 60 and 160 people and is primarily involved in farming. All members of the colony are provided for equally and nothing is kept for personal gain.