In recent years, Finland has become a pioneer in sustainable exercise pens for sows. Finland’s largest piglet producer Timo Heikkilä is one of the pioneers. With the help of the barn equipment supplier WEDA Dammann & Westerkamp, a farmer from Rusko, 200 kilometres west of Helsinki, has successfully converted his farm to free farrowing.
Heikkilä’s new movement pens were recently honored at a ceremony by the Finnish government. Jaana Husu-Kallio, State Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and veterinarian, inaugurated the new pens. With the new units, Heikkilä now has a total of 12 barns with 32 movement pens each.
Finns promote more animal welfare
For about five years, a Finnish government program has been consistently promoting husbandry systems that ensure greater animal welfare. Since then, pig farms in Finland have increasingly been converting their barns.
From the beginning, WEDA says it has actively supported its Finnish customers and partners. This has included several visits by Finnish farmers to WEDA and to reference farms on site.
More safety for piglets
According to the company, the use of the new farrowing crates from WEDA is justified on the one hand by the safety of the piglets. Without adequate technology, sows can smother their piglets. On Heikkilä’s farm, this risk is minimized by temperature differences: The sow herself, who produces a lot of heat, needs a cool surface, while piglets seek warmth. The piglets are therefore housed in pens where heat lamps ensure a temperature of 35 degrees. In the grate, on the other hand, the temperature is well below 20 degrees, and the conditions there are favorable for the sow. Due to the temperature differences, sow and piglet are separated in the pen most of the time.
Safety for the barn staff
The new pens also provide more safety for the barn staff. If necessary, it is possible to convert the pens into a temporary cage so that sows can be confined to clean the pens or for treatment. The space available to the animals in the pen has also been carefully thought out. Therefore, the space for the sow is triangular. Experience on other farms has shown that a triangular shape is best suited to minimizing piglet mortality.
Less labor, more productivity
In addition to innovations for animal welfare, solutions must also be efficient in order to improve productivity and reduce human labor input. This includes, above all, technologies that encourage the animal to behave naturally, as desired by the stable staff. For example, straw dispensers are placed in the pen in such a way that the manure lands on the grid rather than on the concrete floor. “This reduces the amount of work involved in keeping the barn clean, so the bottom line is that the technologies always have a positive effect on animals and people alike,” Timo Heikkilä said.