When wean-to-finish barns were first introduced, many felt that it was a new gimmick that would soon pass and would never work long term.
Wean-to-finish (W-F) appeared to go against many of the pig-raising principles we felt were necessary to starting and raising weaned pigs. Large pens, cement floors and curtain-sided hog barns were a long way from the hot nursery days that many of us still remember.
But as more producers began to try it and experience success, we quickly realized that W-F barns were a reality and had a place in the future of pork production.
W-F barns are not for everyone. But they have found their place in a number of different systems.
We have some producer clients who feel W-F is the only way to raise pigs. And we have others who have gone back to the traditional nursery and finisher system. If the producer is committed to making it work, W-F can be successful as long as everyone understands the limitations. There are advantages and disadvantages to the W-F barns. These need to be considered when making the decision whether to use them or not.
Key Advantages Some of the key advantages to W-F production systems are less powerwashing, less moving of pigs and, in some cases, improved feed efficiency and average daily gain. Some studies have shown a 0.1 improvement in average daily gain and a 0.15 improvement in feed efficiency.
Other studies have shown no improvement in feed efficiency and only a small improvement in average daily gain.
We must also keep in mind that most of the early data that has been evaluated is data from new barns. Some of the later data indicates that performance may decrease slightly as the barns get older.
Case Study One of our producers had been selling early weaned pigs on the open market. Because of the depressed prices, he felt that he would be better off maintaining ownership of those pigs.
So he decided to build two, 1,000-head, W-F barns. He liked the idea of starting with the W-F barn because he had no existing nursery and could always add a nursery if he was disappointed with the performance in the W-F barns.
After two turns through the barns, he is quite satisfied because he doesn't have to move the pigs from the nursery to the finisher and it saves a nursery clean-up and powerwashing.
The performance in this producer's W-F barns has been excellent. He has experienced less respiratory problems than his customers, who were housing pigs in traditional nursery and finisher barns.
At this point, he will continue using his W-F barns. He also feels his performance is better from a feed efficiency and average daily gain standpoint than his customers. This is a difficult comparison but it is consistent with what others have seen in the W-F barn systems.
Most of the advantages seen in the W-F barns is likely due to one less move and mixing of the pigs. This reduces the stress associated with mixing groups of pigs. It also cuts down a pathogen transfer from pig to pig. It isn't hard to imagine that this mixing and sorting can set the pigs back by seven days.
Disadvantages A disadvantage of W-F barns is the challenge of starting the pigs. This problem is over-rated. Most pigs seem to start well provided they are given access to good feed, a comfort board and a dry, warm area to lay. Because of these requirements, the barns are usually 10-20% more expensive to build.
Another disadvantage is utilization of barn space. The extra room available to the weaned pig is expensive when compared to a traditional nursery. If production from the finishing barn is measured by pounds per square foot, the traditional nursery/finisher can have up to a 30% advantage over the W-F barns. To alleviate this, some producers will "double load" these barns until they are 40-50 lb. and then move half the pigs to another finishing barn.
A Toss Up? When all factors are sorted out for W-F vs. traditional nursery/finisher systems, there is no clear-cut answer. Both systems will work well and individual producers need to evaluate how each production system will fit into their specific situation.
With today's challenging market situation, producers need to look carefully to find every advantage they can to improve their bottom line in terms of cost of production.