My farming operation consists of a 240 acre crop and swine farrow to finish operation. I raise corn, beans, alfalfa, grass hay, oats, wheat, CRP and pasture. Before I received this grant, I started on a limited basis crop rotation to include small grains. In the past few years I have increased my small grain acreage, and I am using more straw for bedding for pigs. I have had CRP for about four years. I have 10 acres that include tree plantings. I also have 3.8 acres of a living snow fence. Due to small grains, CRP, trees, grass hay and alfalfa we have seen increased wildlife on our farm.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Conversion of an existing pole barn to a deep bedded sow and piglet nursery.
The goals I had for this project were:
1) Demonstrate that an existing pole barn could be successfully remodeled for a deep sow/piglet nursery
2) Show the system would be animal friendly (geared to sow and piglet comfort)
3) Human friendly; east to clean; easy to put down begging; easy to work with pigs; family friendly (meaning something my two sons would find acceptable); air quality
4) Healthy pigs
5) Increased utilization of straw from small grains
6) Reach a new market for my pigs
7) Reduce antibiotics in my swine herd
Planning and conducting of research and education component of my project.
This project was the second phase of using a deep bedded straw system in my sow farrowing operation. When I have shown my facilities or done presentations at meetings, I explain that the proposal I received SARE funds for was for the development of a successful sow/piglet nursery deep bedded housing system. First, I described the steps involved in the development of converting my old dairy barn into individual pens for deep straw farrowing and how that led to my decision to pursue remodeling of an existing pole barn for a sow/piglet nursery deep bedded housing system.
The steps I took in developing the deep sow/nursery project was to get a variety of options other producers were considering. I got a good sense of who to talk to and how to proceed by consulting with Marlene and Diane Halverson of the Animal Welfare Institute. I looked at plans of an existing facility at the University of Morris that is being considered for remodeling. I had looked at materials from the Iowa State University that both Marlene Halverson and Mark Honeyman had done. My process began by examining what was being done in this area already, and then I sought advice of how to apply that information to my remodeling project. I began my process by consulting with Marlene Halverson as to development of a plan. Then, I consulted with two contractors to take Marlene’s recommendations to develop a possible plan. This involved sow feeder placement, raised platform for feeders, square feet needed for slow and piglets, ventilation needs, insulation materials, sidewall development (why cement?), water placement, electrical planning, door access, window access, lighting, and big door access for clean out with a skid steer. I also brought the building consultants, together with Marlene, for a site visit to review plans. We developed a material list and decided which materials could be used and what had to be new.
The above process included bringing my family together and laying out what I was thinking about for change and how this would be more compatible to family labor needs including myself. We wanted a system that didn’t smell like a confinement barn. We didn’t want a system that required a daily task of scraping manure by hand.
In doing a remodeling project on a family farm, I believe that most important consideration is to look at the overall project from a big picture. It is important to know that a project addresses all aspects. For this project I wanted to determine that my two sons would be willing to help with the labor. In their input in the planning process, they wanted to have a plan that would allow their labor to fit around their school schedules and extra curricular activities. As I developed the project, I worked with Jim Christensen, field man for the Southwest Farm Business Management Association and the U of M Extension Service, to make sure I was correctly moving forward on this project from a business point of view.
In terms of results, I have already run two batches of pigs through the system. We currently have the third batch in the system. Here is what we have observed:
1) The remodeling design is working
2) Sows and piglets appear very comfortable
3) Piglet mortality – 1st group of sows and piglets we placed 7 sows and 66 piglets in the building. We lost 3 piglets prior to weaning due to crushing. In the second group we placed 8 sows and 77 piglets and had 4 piglets die due to crushing prior to weaning. In our third batch of 8 sows and 82 piglets that we placed in on Saturday, March 15th, we had 2 piglets die due to crushing.
4) The pigs are healthy and we have not had to treat them with antibiotics
5) The building is easy to clean with a skid steer. The cement sidewalls work well for running the skid steer bucket to pick up manure
6) The (raised one foot) feeding platform that is five feet wide in front of the feeders works well and is kept clean by the sows.
7) My two sons, Steven and Scott, prefer working in the remodeled sow/nursery deep bedded sow facility and in my old dairy barn (remodeled for individual deep straw pen farrowing for sows) instead of in the old confinement farrowing building in which we had liquid manure.
8) The peak labor demands for this system is not every day and is handled largely on weekends.
I believe the most important aspect of farming is how you want to farm. That needs to include family. The most significant barrier we needed to overcome in our farrowing operation was to make the work more pleasant and to fit family time schedules. The old farrowing system required daily and once a week cleaning of liquid manure throughout the whole barn. The new system requires cleaning at about 8 to 10 weeks.
In December of 1998 we sold pigs for less than eight cents a pound. That price, in real dollars, was worse than what my grandfather received in the depression of the 1930’s. We had to make a long term decision of whether to stay in hog production and how we were going to compete. We remodeled an old dairy barn in 1999 for deep straw sow farrowing in individual pens. The SARE grant has allowed us to move forward and do a deep straw sow/nursery facility which has allowed us to have more pigs for sale that are naturally raised. We have just started to market pigs to Niman Ranch. We sold 14 pigs to them in February. The difference between Niman and the open market currently is $8.00 a cwt. The good thing about this pork company is that there is a floor price of $40 a cwt.
The first significant piece I did in showing my project to other farmers was showing my project to a group of Missouri Farmers who are with Patchwork Family Farms. They came to Minnesota to look at what we have been doing to promote sustainable agriculture and livestock development in Minnesota. They went to the University of Minnesota at Morris to look at hoop house development. They went to Jim VanDerPol’s to look at pasture farrowing. They came to my farm to look at my project for deep bedded sow farrowing in my remodeled dairy barn and my remodeled deep bedded straw sow/nursery. I also showed my facility to a number of neighbors. On February 20th I did a presentation of my project to NFO members in Brown County in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. I am doing a presentation to hog farmers from LSP on Friday, March 28th.