How can you prepare for future-proof pig farming?

13 January 2021Time: 4 minutes

By now, you might already know that in 15 years time, free farrowing will be obligatory in Germany and sows will require 45% more surface area in the farrowing pen. This is a huge transition for many pig farms. This month takes us to Hendrik and Johannes Schumacher in Vechta, Germany. So how do you take on this transition on a farm with 15 employees and 3000 sows?


In this ‘Great pork originates here’ blog, we'd like to share how these smart entrepreneurs in Germany are taking gradual steps towards free farrowing.

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Priority: How do you reduce risks for your piglets?
Schumacher: ‘The bottom line is that we will not be able to raise as many piglets. And fewer piglets means less income. One of the challenges for pig producers of switching to free farrowing in 12 to 15 years is a higher risk of piglet mortality. If sows have full freedom of movement, piglets can be crushed by the sow. In addition, shifting from a minimum surface area of 4.5m² to 6.5m² means that the number of sows we can house is reduced by 30%. That’s why we’re focusing on learning how we ensure a higher number of vital piglets post-weaning. We need to reduce risks for piglets. It's my task to take my farm to the next level and ensure we are prepared for the future legislation.’

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Learn from peers’ experiences
The two brothers have already visited several pig farms in the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden to see which free-farrowing pen best suits their own farm. Schumacher: ‘We discovered that you can greatly reduce the risk of piglet mortality by confining the sow for the first five days in free farrowing. A friend of mine started doing this and has managed to reduce piglet mortality in the first five days from 15% to below 10%.’


A pen that works for sows, piglets, and workers
With 3000 sows on the farm, Schumacher is on a constant search for ways to reduce the risks during this transitional period. He not only finds this important for piglets and his business, but for his workers too. Schumacher: ‘Once the piglets are born, you nurture and care for them every day. If you suddenly find a piglet that has been crushed, it's
upsetting. It makes people wonder whether they did their work properly. In my opinion, a free farrowing crate with lift flooring, where you can confine the sow for the first five days, is the best way to reduce piglet mortality. The lift floor of Vereijken has been proving itself for 15 years. It automatically rises when the sow stands and lowers when she lies down so the piglets can find the teats again. Testing to see if the lift flooring really does reduce piglet mortality for us is the first step.’

 

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Gradual transition towards free farrowing
Modularity can play an important role in the transition. Schumacher: ‘We chose Vereijken because you can reuse 80% of the slats and restructure the flooring when you need to in the future. We’re still dealing with loans used for previous renovations to the crates in 2012, so this helps us to transition in a smart way. Our first step is to see how the Vereijken lift flooring works in the conventional system. After that, we'll convert one space into larger free farrowing pens with lift flooring. If that works, we convert other rooms as well. Because Vereijken products are modular, we can test what works for us and take the next step when we've got all the details right.’

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The best profession
Now the Vari Plus has been installed, Schumacher is one step closer to transitioning
towards free farrowing. Schumacher: ‘Pig farming is not like an office job where you leave on Friday to enjoy a good weekend. Our 3000 sows and piglets need our care every day. And that care is delivered by a team of 15 workers, all with different personalities. You also have to take the finances into account. Technical systems have to work so we can provide care. That combination, together with my passion for working with pigs, makes being a pig producer the best, yet challenging, profession. You’re preparing a farm for the next generation and no two days are the same.’

Hendrik Schumacher uses the Vari Plus lift flooring with Pro Step slats. Interested to discover how you can gradually transition to free farrowing pens on your farm? Contact a local advisor or Ben Voetdijk – ben@vereijkenhooijer.nl.

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