Batch farrowing made sense for Nate and Doug Hoeing’s sow operation. The brothers run a 1,200-sow operation on a family farm in Rush County, Indiana. Farrowing sows once a month instead of weekly offers a couple of major benefits.
“The batch system is labor saving,” Nate said. “We can do the work ourselves and only need hired help at weaning to move sows and load pigs. The rest of it we can handle.”
“Plus, now we have a larger group of pigs at weaning and they are easier to sell,” he added. The Hoeings wean about 2,000 pigs at a time, which are more easily placed in large finishing barns.
Growing in use
Batch-farrowing systems are on the increase, according to Doug Powers, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service. He works with the Hoeings and other clients who are using the system.
“About a third to half of our clients are going to a batch system,” he explained. “They get a bigger group of pigs to fill a 2,500-head wean-to-finish barn as quickly as possible. At the same time, they don’t leave any small pigs behind to transfer disease to the next group.”
Batch farrowing isn’t for all operations, though. The size limit for the system is about 2,500 sows, Powers said. After that, it’s difficult to make it work.
How it works
On the Hoeing farm, the brothers are busy 2 weeks of the month when they begin weaning. Starting on a Monday, they move sows and weaned pigs out of the farrowing crates and completely wash the barn. By Thursday, sows ready to farrow are moved into the clean facility. Usually 190 to 200 sows farrow in each batch.
On the weekend, breeding starts for sows moved out of the farrowing barn. A typical breeding group is 210 to 220 sows. The brothers also get ready to start processing litters, which takes place that next week. Any sows not farrowing by Thursday of this week are induced.
“Then things slow down for a couple of weeks so we can get other things done,” Nate said. The pigs are weaned at 17 to 24 days of age.
Strong litters, sows
The Hoeings use three farrowing barns and fill all of them up at the same time. Their gestation facilities include rooms with 600 individual crates and an updated pen-gestation system that holds 400 sows.
They moved to self feeders in farrowing to help sows improve their condition and to increase weaning weights.
“On the day the sows farrow, we feed them very little,” Nate explained. “On day 2, we give them 5 pounds and then they go on a full feed (ad libitum).”
This feeding regimen improved the herd’s overall sow condition. The last group of sows averaged 14.5 pounds per weaned pig weight and weaned between 11 to 11.25 pigs per litter.
One disadvantage to a batch system is if a sow doesn’t breed, it won’t necessarily cycle back in a regular breeding week. To help them cycle within a group, an altrenogest supplement is fed to the sows. Unbred sows are culled.
The farm has a high-health status. It was depopulated in 2018 and repopulated with high-health gilts. Today, it is negative for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome and mycoplasma. The herd has very few scours or respiratory issues.
The Hoeings powerwash and disinfect the facilities between batches and have extra time to allow the rooms to dry. And because all pigs are moved out of the facilities, none remain to transfer disease. All of this adds up to good herd health.
For the brothers, good herd health and the batch system frees up time for them to do their other chores, like manage a herd of 100 brood cows, and help their father with his crops.