Despite all the prodding from two, long-time veterinary consultants to convert to wean-to-finish, Ken Maschhoff stood firm. He went ahead with plans to build an 8,500-head nursery.
That was about a year ago. "In spite of some of the successes of other operations, we were very reluctant," Maschhoff explains. "We just didn't think it would work as well as everybody indicated."
Change of mind
But even before the huge nursery facility was finished, a vivid image suddenly flashed into his mind. He counted about 3,800 truckloads of feed, pigs and supplies coming and going through Maschhoff Pork Farm's various sites near Carlyle, Ill.
So the decision was made last winter - even before the nursery complex was completed - to build wean-to-finish units.
Declares Maschhoff: "I think the overriding factors were with all of the feed hauling, pig movements and finishing hogs going out, it would become a nightmare to coordinate.
"It's just the sheer movement of the animals, being able to put them in one place and not mess with them for about six months that was appealing," he adds.
Ken Maschhoff, along with brother Dave and father, Wayne, own and operate an 8,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation.
The wean-to-finish decision was sealed when Maschhoff learned that employees in those units were happier because of less labor, yet pig performance is improved dramatically. So far on 30,000 wean-to-finish spaces, mortality has run under 1.5 "percent".
He hopes those positives will also add to success of future finishing contracts. In late 1995, the Maschhoffs started several contract production arrangements to reduce overhead and increase return on investment.
The 18,000 nursery spaces at Maschhoff's Pork Farm Inc. will continue to be used, says Maschhoff. But he vows to never build another nursery, and predicts they will become extinct. He is already looking at a near-term goal of raising 60 "percent" of production in wean-to-finish units, 40 "percent" in conventional nursery and finishing buildings.
In less than a year of building, the Maschhoffs have turned to wean-to-finish in a big way. At last count, they have 16, 2,400-head, wean-to-finish double-wide barns, with a bunch more on the way. A double wide is a 2,400-head building, consisting of two, attached, 1,200-head units under one roof, but operating totally independent with separate ventilation controllers, separate pits and load-out chutes. There is a solid, center, concrete wall dividing the 82-ft.-wide, 240-ft.-long buildings.
Why build a double wide? It's a matter of economics. The price of the double wides substantially beats the cost of two, comparative, wean-to-finish buildings.
A single unit with an 8-ft. deep pit, loading chute and the works is running $142/pig space. Add the road rock and dirt work around the buildings, the total comes to $151/pig space. Building a double-wide, wean-to-finish unit cuts about $13/pig space off those facility costs, he says.
It's common to build two, 2,400-head buildings on one site at a time. That's 4,800 head. With a $13/pig space savings, the total savings comes to about $62,000 ($13 x 4,800). That's roughly $31,000/double-wide building less compared to building two, separate 1,200-head barns on two sites. The contract producer putting up wean-to-finish barns saves a bundle, says Maschhoff.
"For the producer who is contracting with us to raise our pigs in his facility, it makes the cash flows on these operations the difference between night and day, cutting that much off the principal payment. We will make the exact same payment for using that facility whether it's two, 1,200-head buildings or one, 2,400-head barn (double wide)," he points out.
Under the contracts, the producer puts up the building, the Maschhoffs supply feed, management and the pigs.
Maschhoff explains the side-by-side, connected units are tunnel ventilated, which means air is moving in one end and exiting the other, year 'round. "There is no reason why the two buildings can't be side by side because the curtains are only there on the sides of the buildings for emergency situations."
The double wides also afford the luxury of taking split-sex feeding a step further. Barrows and gilts are split by sex shortly after farrowing, during crossfostering. Then at weaning, when they are moved to the double-wide, wean-to-finish units, barrows are fed out on one side of the building, gilts on the other side.
That makes marketing a lot easier, too. Faster-growing barrows can be shipped while not disturbing the gilts next door.
Wean-to-finish facilities ease manure handling chores. "We've only got about 60% of the manure production that we would have in a conventional barn because you've got pigs coming in at 10 lb., going to 260 lb. twice a year, instead of pigs coming in at 50 lb. and going to 260 lb. three times a year. That cuts your total manure production by an estimated 40%," Maschhoff observes.
With wean-to-finish barns, producers also load out a third less pigs compared to conventional finishers, have a third less wash time and a third less labor involved in bringing in pigs.
Special designs, management
The Maschhoffs, who do all their own building construction, added a few special touches and management ideas for their wean-to-finish units.
The bottom rod on pen dividers is only 11/2 in. off the floor to keep pigs from squeezing under the rods.
Feet and legs of penning are all stainless steel to extend its life. Maschhoff reminds that buildings will only be washed every six months instead of every four months as would be the case in a typical grow-finish facility.
The Aqua Tube Feeder provides nutrients. There are two boxes on top, each holding 25 lb. of feed. They are used to hand feed pellets during the pigs' first three days in the facility. Then pigs rely on self-feeders for pellets or meal; water cups are adjacent. The feeder is located just 19 in. from the front of the pen so that employees can easily lean over the penning to make critical adjustments. Twenty separate rations are fed, 10 rations each to barrows and gilts. Four nursery rations and six grow-finish rations are fed.
One-half-inch thick, 4x6 ft. rubber mats under a single heat lamp centered over the mat provide plenty of warmth, comfort and space for the first critical two to three weeks the pigs are in the barn, says Maschhoff.
The double-wide, wean-to-finish system provides another, largely unrecognized benefit to the pork industry, declares Maschhoff. It reduces the number of buildings on a site, quieting critics. Maschhoff says that is another big reason his family has gone to the new, double wide barns.
And of late they've even taken that stance a step further by building what are probably the industry's first two 3,000-head, wean-to-finish units.
"When a guy puts up two buildings, it sounds a lot better than five or six buildings, and it doesn't look as big as six, individual 1,200-head buildings would either," he observes.
If all else fails
And finally, he admits one big reason the family was willing to adopt wean-to-finish philosophy - if the system fails, they will work quite nicely as conventional finishers. "You can go into them with 50-lbers and there is no reason in the world why they can't be used for the next 25 years as grow-finish buildings."
But if you were building strictly grow-finish facilities, it's pretty tough to switch them back to barns where you could start off a 9-lb. pig like we do in our wean-to-finish barns, he points out.