Ahead of the curve in free farrowing

Written by Bart Hooijer on 10 August 2020Time: 5 minutes

Free farrowing: how to make it work in Ontario, Canada 

Vereijken believes that pig farmers should be proud of what they’re accomplishing. Each month, we’ll visit a pig farm that can proudly say: ‘Great pork originates here’. This month, we’re introducing you to Dave Dieleman and his family in Ontario, Canada. This family’s ahead of the curve, already working on free farrowing for almost ten years. How did they realize their vision? How did they deal with challenges on their path? This is the story of a family of pioneers, making free farrowing happen. 

Free Farrowing
Free farrowing farm of the Dieleman family in Ontario, Canada.

Ahead of the curve in free farrowing

‘We already had this idea of enabling sows to turn around within their farrowing crate ten years ago,’ Dave Dieleman explains. ‘If sows are able to move around, we hope they’ll eat a little better, will milk better, nurse better and that they’ll bring bigger, stronger and healthier pigs.’ 

As free farrowing pens weren’t available on the Canadian market at that time, Dave and his co-worker Matt built their own. ‘Matt and I actually made six free farrowing pens for the existing barn and played around with the idea of sows farrowing in an open area. But it didn’t really work for us at the time. Two years ago, I came across the Vereijken free farrowing system called Pro Dromi®, and that was exactly what I was looking for. I like that these free farrowing pens can confine the sow for the first two or three days when she’s farrowing, and that the Pro Dromi® can open up after this point, enabling the sow to move around in the pen. We had a challenge, though: our barn had a totally different layout. How to place the free farrowing pens to make sure we’re maximizing the required amount of space and also fit all animals we need for this project to succeed?’

Free Farrowing
Piglets in the free farrowing pen of Vereijken, Pro Dromi®

There's always a way to make it work

John Minten of Dortmans Brothers coordinated the renovation of the farrowing stalls from start to finish. Serving farms in Ontario for over 40 years, Dortman Brothers helps farmers from barn design to construction, connecting them to well-trained technicians and the best products on the market. John Minten: ‘It was a different kind of project in many ways. In the Vereijken Pro Dromi® system everything is designed to allow little piglets to escape to places the sow can’t reach when it roams free. This was new to us. On top of that, we were renovating an existing barn. Now if you build a new farm, you can make sure the structure fits the system. As we were renovating, we had to work together and make design changes to the Vereijken free farrowing system to make sure everything fits the barn.'

Free Farrowing
Free farrowing Pro Dromi® system of Vereijken designed for the family Dieleman

The secret of innovation 

Minten: 'Dave Dieleman was a great fit for this kind of project. Everyone got together with an open, flexible and 'lets-get-it-done’ attitude. That was great. As a project coordinator, I always ask farmers, installers and suppliers how they think we can solve this together. The best ideas can come from every corner. We had conference calls with our installers and Vereijken to talk about the installment and make sure we got everything right. Vereijken actually came over from the Netherlands to visit the barn in Ontario and get a good look at what had been done. They made design changes to make sure Dave had exactly what he needed. Everybody really did what needed to be done to make it happen.'

Results to be proud of

The first farrowing period on Dieleman’ farm with the Vereijken free farrowing system took place in December 2019. ‘Farrowing means new life,’ Dieleman explains. ‘It’s exciting to see pigs being born and playing a part in it. To see how well a sow does as a mother and how our stockmanship is keeping those little pigs alive. We always make sure the mother has everything she needs, whether she’s nursing, eating or whatever, so she can do a great job.’ Although the Dieleman family is still renovating, they’re already seeing improvements. ‘Matt keeps track of the data and compared to last year pre-weaning mortality has gone down by about 5 to 6%.’ 

free farrowing
Free forrowing with Vereijken in Ontario Canada with the family Dieleman

A next generation pig farm

One of the reasons the Dieleman family chose to renovate the barn is the next generation. As of 2024, sow stalls or gestation crates can no longer be used to house pregnant pigs in Canada. This code of practice is already in place in the European Union1. ‘After these renovations, we’ll have 30 square feet extra for mothers and babies to roam around. I like the idea that if the mother is happier in the gestation area, this continues into the farrowing area as she’s able to move around more. I’m proud to be one of the first farms in Ontario implementing this on a larger scale. We believe that free farrowing is the way of the future, and we wanted to be ahead of the curve, setting up our next generation well for their work. It is exciting, new, something different. We’re really happy with how things turned out.‘

Want to know more?

Dave Dieleman is using the Pro Dromi® free farrowing pen. Curious how this would work for your situation? Contact an advisor in your neighborhood, follow our free webinars or read our whitepapers.

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