Germany

EuroTier:Trends in pig farming and feeding technology

Christian Meyer, Schleswig-Holstein Chamber of Agriculture, Futterkamp Teaching and Research Centre: Priorities: intact respiratory tract, good feed intake, and feed conversion for lactation period; animal health: correlation with proportion of gilts; Animal Welfare Livestock Ordinance dictates sow's location and space; Breeding runners need 5 m2; new animal housing concepts to accommodate large; lying area; straw in mating centre; farrowing pen.

Posted on Nov 03 ,04:45

EuroTier:Trends in pig farming and feeding technology

A few years ago, the EuroTier trend report 2016 stated that 2015 could be considered a saturation year. Pig farming boomed not only in Germany, but throughout Europe and to some extent in many non-European countries. At the same time, consumer attitudes to pork consumption changed. Since then, the per capita consumption of pork has been steadily decreasing.

As a result, an animal welfare initiative was launched in Germany. During the pandemic, an oversupply of pork was observed. Work canteens had to close temporarily, public life was restricted and face-to-face contacts were reduced. The lockdown had a sever impact on the pig industry. The outbreak of African swine fever in Germany additionally weakened sales of pork products to other countries.

In February 2021, the long-awaited Animal Welfare Livestock Ordinance for pig farming in Germany was passed. Farmers have pushed for reliable framework conditions for pig farming with clearly formulated time limits and transition periods. Farming methods similar to those used in egg production are also desired by many consumers in pig farming. Food retailers, the Borchert Commission, an advisory committee appointed by the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) to provide recommendations on animal welfare, and many other committees/projects are addressing this issue.

The war between Russia and Ukraine and the resulting shortage of resources has caused inflation to flare up. Purchasing power and demand for higher standards have declined sharply in the last six months.

Many pig farmers have given up the "pig" production segment. The amount of slaughtering has dropped sharply and the market is recovering only very slowly. The targeted husbandry systems must also continue to adjust to slow growth. If there is less money available, people are quick to save on food. 

Integration and breeding runner pens 

In sow husbandry, breeding performance with regard to piglet numbers no longer has the highest priority. Health, such as intact respiratory tract, good feed intake, but also feed conversion for the later lactation period are the top priority. They are followed by excellent foundations, as group housing is decisively in demand and desired in all production stages of sow husbandry.

Only a sow with a long life can bring a positive economic result. Therefore, the husbandry in the breeding run phase must be adapted to the further production rhythm in the arena breeding and holding pen. A re-mating rate of 35 to 45% should always be sufficient. This results in a proportion of gilts litters between 16 and 20%. If the proportion of gilts in the herd is too high, the risk of health problems is also high. The immune system of the stock sows can then no longer defend itself against the health strain of the gilts. If the situations described occur, more and more sows fall out of the production rhythm and healthy group rearing is hardly possible. Reserve bays or sick bays must then be built additionally. This is at the expense of economic success.   

Arena breeding and holding pen 

To date, most of the livestock buildings have been divided into production sections. There is, if anything, an arena for the sows to be bred. This is followed by a mating centre for insemination and a holding pen until the pregnant sows are transferred to the farrowing pen. However, with the new Animal Welfare Livestock Ordinance, this system can no longer be fully complied with. For new buildings or major conversions, but also for certain financing, the new Animal Welfare Livestock Ordinance must be complied with. Otherwise, the statutory transitional periods apply. Keeping a sow individually is now only allowed in the farrowing area or in a recovery bay or if the herd size is below ten sows. However, the following condition applies here: The individual sow must be able to turn around unhindered within a certain predefined area.

In the stalls of the future, the breeding runners must be provided with at least 5 m² of space one week before the intended occupancy (insemination) and the sow between the weaning of the piglets and the first insemination (girdling period). In common usage, this is understood to mean the arena, in order to prevent later ranking and sow fights.

From the first insemination onwards, the area may be graded to the legal area size of the holding pen. During the short period of insemination or feeding time, the sow may be restrained in individual protection bays. The individual bays must not be counted as a resting zone during the girdling period; a retreat area must be recognisable.

In the waiting pen area, the individual pen is also recognised as a lying area if it can prove that it has the required lying area. However, the stall must not be closed by hand, except when feeding. If the sow locks and opens the protective pen itself, this technique is recognised.

The call-out stations will increase due to the new regulation in the arena breeding and holding pen. Newer stations can also act as head stations and are utilised with 12 to 20 sows. For larger groups, corresponding stations are placed next to each other or classic call-up stations are used. Liquid feeding is also becoming increasingly important on sow farms. The herds become larger and the sow groups can be created more easily as a result.

Straw in the arena and in the mating centre, but also in the waiting pen supplemented by outdoor runs, is often not only considered but also implemented. With the help of an outdoor run, the area per sow can be increased relatively quickly. The costs are high per square metre, but not as high as for an absolute warm barn. When straw is fully used in the animal areas, these are cleaned of manure using large-scale technology. Other areas, however, which only receive minimal straw, are cleared via underfloor drag-type manure removal system.   

The farrowing pen

Farrowing pens have been given long transitional periods in the Animal Welfare and Livestock Farming Ordinance. But in practice, the picture is different. There are many farms with older models of farrowing bays, but these often no longer meet the desired standard. If a farm wants to rebuild the farrowing area and use exercise pens, this farm loses 40 to 60 % of the previous farrowing bays. A "simple" extension, such as for the arena breeding and holding pen, is almost impossible for the farrowing pen.

Therefore, the following applies: If construction takes place, new farrowing pens will be aimed for in order to use the freed-up space for further production processes and to maintain the space for the stock animals without increasing the animal population.

The exercise farrowing bays are tested again and again and there will certainly be many different makes on exhibit at EuroTier. The farrowing bays required by law must have an area of at least 6.5 m². However, practical experience shows that an area of 7.5 m² makes more sense in order to integrate all structures well, such as the piglet nest in the farrowing bay.

Some farms go a step further, fearing that free farrowing and group rearing during lactation will gain entry into sow rearing. In consultation, but also in the selection of the exercise bays, attention is paid to the fact that farrowing could also be possible without the sow being fixed by the piglet protection cage. If the piglet protection cage is missing in the farrowing bay, this must be designated as a free farrowing bay.

Another step could be the opening of farrowing bays to obtain group rearing during the lactation period. The additional spaces then required must already be included in the planning phase and implemented. In retrospect, group suckling is almost impossible to carry out without expensive construction measures. In the case of further, but even fewer sow farms, an outdoor run is then even being considered, but this is currently only being implemented on certain husbandry levels.

Feeding the sow in the farrowing bay according to her performance is still one of the biggest challenges of a sow farm. The daily feed quantities are divided into even smaller feed portions, for which there are solutions such as labour-intensive hand feeding, the widely used technology of volumetric feeders, computer-assisted liquid feeding and computer-assisted portion feeding systems. The latter work with integrated lure-feeding technology to provide an incentive to feed. Forgoing feed is quickly visible in lactating sows, with the result that the sow's body fat melts, fat diarrhoea occurs in the piglets and the decisive weaning weights cannot be complied with. Future sow feeding, but also suckling piglet feeding, will place an even stronger emphasis on animal health.  

Piglet rearing

A uniformly good birth weight and a correspondingly high weaning weight are of particular importance for the further development of the piglets. The more uniform the piglets are on weaning day, the fewer piglet bays and feed types need to be offered. The new Animal Welfare Livestock Ordinance includes a stricter limit on the number of animals at feedlots and the feed presentation time. Not only the regulation, but also practice clearly shows this trend in piglet feeding. In the initial stage of piglet rearing, one feeding station per piglet is the goal; at the end of rearing, one feeding station can serve three to four piglets. In addition to mash and liquid feeding, the pure dry feeder is also active again in the manufacturers' range and is popularly used on farms for feed provision.

The feed intake of the piglets has been influenced by breeding to the extent that the total daily feed intake was too low. The current widely used genetics show better feed intake. Nevertheless, food and water must be placed close together so that no food falls out of the mouth while walking. Long automatic dryers with integrated water intake can be found at EuroTier, but they must always be tried out in terms of functional reliability. In the case of unclean automatic feeders, feed run-on in the feed intake tray can also be quickly prevented. Due to the sticking of feed remains, feed intake is not completely secured and ranking fights can be triggered among the pigs. 

The structured bays are also no longer an exception. Those who offer structured bays in piglet rearing have clear advantages in terms of tail biting within the piglet group. The bay area, where the occupational feed must be given, has been newly added. Classic feed systems are well known, but more and more systems for occupational feed are being offered on the market. Hand feeding fulfils the same purpose, but in terms of labour economics it is hardly acceptable for pig farms and is also not economically feasible due to high labour costs.

Energy costs are rising rapidly, which is why even more attention is being paid to microclimate zones in the lying area. Air-to-air heat exchangers are increasingly in demand to save energy. Cooling systems are also in high demand to curb the high temperatures in the barn. Geothermal heat exchangers are also experiencing a renaissance, because they can feed air into the barn throughout the year with only a few annual temperature differences.

Finishing pigs

The animal welfare discussion has gained the most importance with fattening pigs. Hardly any new traditional fattening stables are being built. The fattening farms want to implement the animal welfare concept and build appropriate housing or at least convert to this husbandry level. Not only is there the question of whether the barn will be approved from an environmental point of view, but there is also concern about whether the market will pay back the investment through the meat sold.

In terms of construction, a great deal will be shown at EuroTier for these husbandry levels. In the case of an occupational feed such as short straw, hay, silage, etc., flushing systems in the manure system can still maintain functional safety. If integrated partial solid areas are to be interspersed in perforated surfaces, it is better to install an underfloor drag-type manure removal system.

Manure should be removed from tarpaulin-covered flat areas with full bedding using large-scale equipment. It should be possible to raise the partition grids to the pens upwards and turn them away when opening them to the manure surface and to retract them to the zero position when closing them.

Large air intake openings on existing barn walls or runs are often added to existing barns. The air ducting must be adapted accordingly for this purpose. Some companies have specialised in this special air guidance, also in connection with the winding ventilation of the open sides.

Large groups in the fattening sector had lost importance, but now the trend is slowly returning. The bays can be well-structured and cut to fit with outdoor runs. Large-scale technology for bedding and manure removal then offers advantages. Feeding technology can also be easily planned for the large or even mega groups. The technology market is very good at offering these feeding systems with sensor support. And sorting locks for fattening pigs are on the home stretch.

Manure technology 

Manure systems have been around for more than 50 years, but good technology that pulls manure plugs or plate sliders could never be found on the pig farming technology market. One company has developed a three-legged block and tackle called "Lifty" to make this physically demanding work easier. If the manure plug is easily accessible, the three-legged frame is placed over the plug. The technical box, in which a cable winch is installed, is located above the three-legged frame. A wire rope can be pulled out of the box with the winch and hooked into the handle of the plug or the plate slider. Then the battery-operated "Lifty" cable winch is turned on and the cable pulls the manure closing technology upwards. Some manure plugs, but mostly sliders, are used very much on the wall side. Here the rear leg of the "Lifty" three-legged frame is unscrewed and supported on the wall side. The resulting pull gives the three-legged frame the necessary hold and, even in this position, it can pull the closing technology from the manure channel. The pulling length of "Lifty" is limited to one metre and the battery is a commercially available rechargeable battery.

Weighing finishing pigs 

Selling fattening pigs at the right selling weight is very difficult. The adage "The eye of the Lord (supervision) feeds and cares for the cattle" is certainly true. But it is often very difficult to identify some parameters in pigs. Estimating the exact animal weight means estimating many animal weights, then weighing and checking them. Of course, it also includes keen animal observation.

Sales weights are becoming more and more important in order to put together animal groups accurately. If the sales weight of the pig is within a certain weight corridor, the fattening pig must be sold within this weight corridor if possible. Overweights and underweights are punished with price reductions. The "optiMARKER", a marking station with optical scales for fattening pigs, can be seen at EuroTier. It is supported by a new innovative 3D camera that precisely determines the weight of the animals. When certain thresholds are reached, the animals are automatically marked with spray paint.

The special innovation of this scale is its mobility. It is not stationary, but mobile and can be moved from bay to bay. A rigid frame above the weighing unit ensures that the distance to the measuring points of the 3D camera is always the same. This labour-saving simplification is required on the fattening farms, especially with regard to larger bay structures. The "optiMARKER" features computer-aided operation and can be combined with older models of a 2D camera.

Pig health

Many factors can affect the health status of pigs. Especially in the piglet rearing and fattening phase, animal monitoring is one of the decisive factors in ensuring the health of the pigs. The daily checks of the pigs are compulsory and can also prevent many problems before they occur. Technical problems, such as blockage of automatic feeders or feed run-ons, as well as factors such as occupational feed, bedding systems, doors to outdoor runs, etc., are often easier to detect by eye and can also be technically easier to detect using sensors.

Recognising health problems that creep in is often much more difficult. These include, above all, respiratory diseases. It can take days from a little "air snoring" to a major cough. But if the cough really gets going, it also needs veterinary treatment. An early warning system called "SoundTalks" will be exhibited at EuroTier.

The "SoundTalks" monitoring system consists of individual monitors that are
suspended in the pen compartments at a height of approx. 2 m. This enables one monitor to monitor an area in the barn with a diameter of 20 m. The individual monitors interconnect via Wi-Fi and form a network. This is a monitoring system that records noises in the barn and analyses them using artificial intelligence. The background noise, such as the ventilation motors or feeding systems, but also direct factors relating to the pigs themselves, such as grunting pigs, are filtered out. The special algorithm that detects and warns of respiratory problems (lung problems) is in the background of this system. The system's warnings are displayed on the monitor by an LED lamp (traffic light - green/yellow/red) or in the associated "SoundTalks" web portal or on the smart phone with an app. This enables earlier intervention before the animals become seriously ill.  Technical solutions can then also often solve the respiratory problems in advance, such as fluctuations in day/night temperatures or air speeds.

The "SoundTalks" early warning system also supports reduced use of antibiotics through early warning. This means that the marketing of the pigs is even better secured, there is less work due to non-treatment and profitability can improve as a result.

Piglet nest

The new Animal Welfare and Livestock Husbandry Ordinance and the associated implementation instructions regulate the size of the piglet nest. For example, with 14 weaned piglets and an average weight of 8.5 kg, a nest size of 1.9 m² must be complied with. The actual area to be heated, even only as floor area, may be less. The control of the heating of an underfloor heating system is often only carried out via the electronic control technology, the return thermostat or with the help of manual monitoring. Spot measurement via an infrared thermometer is widely used as a technical checking device. An area-wide thermographic camera (thermal imaging camera) can also be used to check the heating panel. Visual temperature monitoring of the piglet nest heaters did not exist until now.

One company will show a "Thermo W/E thermochrome piglet nest heater" at the trade fair. The underfloor heating has certain elements on its visible upper side that feature reversible thermochromatic pigments. The upper side of the piglet nest plate can therefore show a colour change at predetermined minimum or maximum temperatures. This allows the operating company to determine very quickly whether there is a possible fault. This innovative approach facilitates daily monitoring and eliminates the need for more complicated daily checks of the heating panels. Work and time can be saved with the innovation "Thermo W/E thermochrome piglet nest heater".

Bedding technology 

Straw bedding, but also hay in pig farming, is not a new invention, but an old common practice. For decades, straw had almost disappeared from barns. The price of meat nationally, labour economics and other factors have all but banished straw.

Due to other marketing strategies as well as basic social and political conditions, the use of straw will increasingly return to barns. Straw remains an economic cost factor and must therefore also be used in doses. People who bed straw decide with the human eye how much straw to put in the bays with the pigs.

A company will show a bedding technology under the name "OLLIGES Bedding Robot" at EuroTier.  The " OLLIGES Bedding Robot" travels electrically on a steel frame over the pens. At night, when as few light sources as possible interfere with the technology, the "OLLIGES Bedding Robot" drives over the pens to be spread - a so-called evaluation drive to assess the bedding area. This releases infrared illumination toward the ground and produces qualitatively uniform images. The robot uses image analysis to intelligently and independently decide where and how much bedding needs to be placed during the day. The amount of straw then required is then transported to the bays by the "OLLIGES Bedding Robot" and dropped. The bedding frequency can be freely adjusted on the computer-assisted system.

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