How do you make a barn renovation plan that suits your business?

26 November 2020Time: 5 minutes

The greatest compliment you can get is when the next generation decides to take over the family business. After all, pig farming is more than a job, it's a way of life. After a few years of work experience in construction, Darren Sloan decided to return to the family business of running a pig farm in Canada. Today Darren is using his construction knowledge to make their barn future proof. How does a pig farmer with construction experience look at barn renovations?


In this second 'Great Pork Originates Here' blog we're happy to share Darren's view.

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Returning to the farm

Darren shares: 'When I was small, and we drove along all the farms in the neighborhood, I always saw a farm as a box. Each box had animals and was the same to me. Now I know no two pig farms are the same. How do you decide on the size of the crates? How do you decide on the size of the corridors? There are so many things to think about that can ease your daily work. It's important to make choices that fit your management style.'

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Talk with a wide variety of people

Darren and his dad Lyle Sloan took three years to decide upon a renovation plan that works for their business. The key? Talk with lots of people. Darren explains: 'The thing with renovations is that once you’ve built it, you cannot go back. It would be a bummer to learn too late that if you had made the corridor 20cm wider, it would be easier to work in. It's funny to look back at my mailbox to see what we've learned from over 500 email exchanges with other pig farmers, companies and experts. It really helped us to make a renovation plan that works for us.'

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Scouting innovations that fit you

'Salesmen will tell you great stories that if you change your way of working their product will fit. But why should I change the way I work? What I like about Vereijken is that they have a feeding system but were willing to collaborate with a company in the USA called PigEasy, who offers a feed system we really wanted to work with. Instead of sticking with their own product, the engineering department of Vereijken and PigEasy worked together to see how they could make their products fit. Instead of telling me I have to change things because that's how the product works, they think along in what works best for our business and the way we manage things. They're realizing our family’s vision.'

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Trialing products

Katie Holtz of PigEasy explains: “Darren and Lyle first tried our feed system and then decided to scale up. All our products are built based on our own experience of owning and operating a pig farm. Over the years we’ve learned that hand feeding large amounts of feed twice a day isn’t productive. There’s a lot of feed waste and the sow has to eat everything she normally eats all at once. Our ad-lib feeder, the MealMeter, gives sows the power to decide when they want smaller portions, giving her fresh feed anytime she wants and reducing feed waste. It’s a pleasure to work with Vereijken to integrate our feed system with their farrowing crates. We met them just a year ago and it’s exciting to see our products coming together now.”

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Finding an optimum

Currently the products are installed on site and the renovation plans of the Sloan family are becoming a reality. Darren: 'We constantly ask ourselves: how can we build the barn in such a way to nurture better piglets and what innovations work for us? What environment do they need? For example, we mimic natural day and night times by dimming the lighting, because we believe that less stress for our animals also benefits our business. Next to this we're integrating the climate covers of Vereijken in all our farrowing crates as piglets prefer a warm climate. A friend who worked with four of these climate covers said that piglets from these farrowing crates are heavier, so we decided to integrate it in all our crates.'

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Toughest challenge brings you the most

The first farrowing period in the new barn will start early next year. At the end of our conversation, we look back on Darren's switch from his job in construction to returning to the family business. Darren: 'My father's passion for farming and his knowledge and experience are the reason that I am farming today. I really enjoy this opportunity of running a family business where you have to make all kinds of big decisions. It's also really special to do this with your family. Pig farming is definitely not easy, but I like the challenges and dynamics. With the renovations we also expanded and we're now dealing with running a business that is twice the size. But if I look back, the hardest challenge always brought me the most.'

Finding it hard to find a company that can realize your entire vision? Tell us! Our engineering team is happy to collaborate and think about how we can make it work for you. Contact Bart Hooijer for more information about the projects we have collaborated on - Bart@vereijkenhooijer.nl.

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