By Scott Bauck, Hog Slat Inc.
I recently spent some time looking through some old books of my father’s and ran across the USDA 1960 Yearbook of Agriculture, “Power to Produce”. The forward of this book reads:
“The value of this book is to bring into sharp focus the technological revolution that is now changing not only agriculture but our way of life.” and “we must make the most of the extra food technological advances provide.”
Starting about this period, advances in nutrition and disease control made it possible to move swine production from pastures to confinement systems. The mechanization of feeding, watering and manure handling chores allowed fewer farmers to provide more food for a growing urban population.
One of these early confinements concepts tested was the Birth-to-Finish pen. The idea was to reduce stress by keeping the pigs in the same pen from farrowing through finishing. The pen was 14' x 8' and equipped with farrowing guard rails, automatic waterers, insulated and heated creep area, and a self-feeder supplied by an overhead auger.
The caption in yearbook reads:
In this minimum-stress pen, the shape of the guardrail encourages the sow to lie with the teats toward the pigs. The pigs stay where it’s warm – under the heat lamp and behind the guard.
How about double-decked farrowing? I actually saw one of these near Red Oak, Iowa, about 20 years ago.
From the yearbook:
Hogs in double-deck, all steel, cage-type farrowing stalls. The pigs are transferred after weaning. Manure drops to a tray under each stall and is carried away by a mechanical drag. Cooled air is piped to each sow when the weather is hot to reduce stress from heat.
And my favorite, Hog-O-Matic!
From the yearbook:
This automatic hog finishing facility – dubbed “Hog-O-Matic” – is equipped to feed the pigs and clean the floor under fully automatic control. Cleaning is done (below) with two jets of water under 70 pounds of pressure. The revolving boom circles the 21.5- foot exercise area every 2.5 minutes. A 4-inch center drain carries the wastes away.
Although none of the concepts highlighted are still in use, they were part of the journey in developing the systems we use today. The progression continued by retrofitting older multi-purpose barns into specialized farrowing, nursery and finishing buildings. We learned as we went; refining ventilation, advancing feeder designs, and improving flooring and other products to enhance the environments we use to produce pork.
In some ways, we are returning to some of those original housing concepts; converting gestation stalls to group housing, bigger farrowing pens with swing-open crate sides, and larger groups of finishing pigs.