Multi-Phase Swedish-Style Hog Structure with Attached Pastures

Final Report for FNC94-088

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1994: $3,095.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1995
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $23,054.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


In the fall of 1994 our farming operation involved my farther – Norman, my brother Scott and me. We raise corn, soybeans, wheat, and canning crops on 750 tillable acres. We manage our own operations independent of each other, yet share equipment and labor, my father was semi retired, operating only 50 acres. The farm was homestead by my great grandfather in 1896 and at one time maintained dairy cattle, hogs and chickens. My father sold out most of the livestock enterprises b 1960 and concentrated his efforts in crop farming. I started farming with my father in 1980 and am currently running approximately 400 tillable acres, 80 of which was purchased from my parents on CD and will be paid for in 1998. my father still lived on the original homestead where most of the livestock buildings have been converted into machinery storage. I live on an 80 acre homestead 8 miles away. My wife Susan and I have 3 children ages 15, 6, and 3. I was employed by Hutchinson Technology Inc for 7 years and was making $10.30/hr. My brother Scott has been farming for about 3 years, is married and also employed at Hutchinson Technologies where we worked opposite crews so one of us as always available for needed farming operations.

Our current farm situation did not generate enough income to support 3 families. Non farm employment allowed us to continue our farming operations but created scheduling problems in peak seasonal labor requirements. Time spent with family was almost nonexistent during spring and fall field operations. The structure of our family farm operation was also changing. My parents wished to retire and move to town, which they have since done in September of 1995. my brother Scott has moved onto the original farm site but lacks the experience to deal with the day to day decision making. This change made it necessary for me to quit my off farm job so as to manage the day to day business of running the farm, and to develop another source of income to maintain our 3 family situation.

Our goal was to diversify my current farm operation by establishing a farrow to finish swine facility with attached pasture. We felt that diversifying our farm was the first step in creating a sustainable and self sufficient operation, however, there were other family and community orientated goals we considered. We wanted a livestock enterprise that would allow us to work together as a family unit. This would increase our “family time” and give us the opportunity to teach our children responsibility. We also wanted a community friendly facility. The town of Lake Lillian is just 1 mile down wind from our farm site. Recent experience with stopping a large open lagoon hog finishing facility made starting any hog operation questionable. There was some concern on our abilities to successfully manage and operate a farrow to finish swine facility. Lack of any experience with livestock led us to consider a low cost facility with the adaptability to allow us to use our investment in other ways. We wanted to maintain flexibility in our operations so if we were poor managers, or if there were drastic changes within the industry, we could salvage our investment.

Susan and I investigated the Vastgotmodellen, Sweden’s sustainable alternative for swine production. Due to a ban on the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in 1986 and the passing of strict animal welfare laws in 1988 the Swedish system requires hog producers to raise livestock in a manner that allows the animals to exhibit there natural behaviors. This system uses group housing dynamics, deep straw bedding, and relies on the pig’s natural behavior as well as good husbandry skills to be successful. After visiting and touring these Swedish facilities with a group of farmers and researchers, we worked with Mark Honeyman and Marlene Halverson, Coordinator and Consultant of the Outlying Research Systems for Iowa State University, to adapt this system to the upper Midwest area.

At the time of our original grant request, we were considering construction of a new building to establish this system on our farm. Due to a desire to make some capital investments in two closed coops (a value added corn ethanol plant, and a value added soybean processing/manufacturing facility) we decided to remodel an existing pole shed for this purpose. The pole building was to be remodeled to accommodate the four phases of swine production. Breeding/gestation, farrowing, nursery, and grower. The square footage and building design requirements listed below are what we used to make our plans.

Swedish Style System Requirements
Gestating Sows – 27 Sq ft
Farrowing pen sow with litter – 64 sq ft
Nursing area per sow and litter – 81 sq ft
- Windows – these are required as pigs need to see the cycle of nights and days
- Ventilation – very important to install a system which provides a warm, dust free, draft free, quiet environment, especially during farrowing and nursery phases
- Deep straw bedding – deep straw composts naturally in pen which helps create a warmer more comfortable environment, helps keep pigs clean, and can destroy disease spreading bacteria. This bedding is cleaned out only at 3 month intervals and can reach a depth of up to 4 ft. a ceiling height of 12’ min. is required.
- Feeding system – important that all sows are to eat at same time, clean freshwater at all times.

Our existing building was a 36’ by 60’ shop/machinery shed located 200’ from our house but accessible to the field where I had established a mixed clover and grass pasture on the east side of our farm site. The west end of the building was an 18’ by 36’ shop are separated from the machine shed by a stud wall. The remaining 42’ by 36’ machine shed area is what we converted into our swine facility. The large 22’ wide by 15’ high machinery sliding doors were replaced by a single bi-fold door was left the same so it could be used for machinery purposes if needed. Three windows approximately 30” by 5’ were installed on the south side of the building. These were made by me out of treated wood and plexiglass. These satisfied the window requirement and gave the advantage of using passive solar heating to warm the structure in winter and are removable to allow for natural ventilation during hot summer weather. The walls and ceiling were lined out with 2” by 4” suds at 2’ on center. 1 ½” Styrofoam was placed between the horizontal outer wall suds and 6 ½” fiber glass insulation bats were placed between inside studs for a total insulation thickness of 8” with an R-value of 29.12” bats of insulation were placed in ceiling studs for an R-value of 38. a 6 mill vapor barrier was applied on walls and ceiling. The interior walls were finished off using used 1” by 6” tongue and groove boards which used to be the hay mow floor in the barn on our original farmstead before it was converted to machinery storage. The ceiling was finished with 3/8” cdx plywood. The Bi-fold door was insulated with two 2” sheets of Styrofoam for an R-value of 20. Three drains and a water supply line were installed before concrete was poured. A 16” by 9’ by 35’ concrete rise along the west end of the building was poured first. This is the feeding and creep area. A 4” slab was poured in the remaining area. Two walk doors were installed, one exiting to shop area and one by the big door to the outside.

At this point in the construction process we have put together what most people would consider to be a very nice insulated machine shop. This emphasizes the flexibility aspect of our project. The remaining construction, with the exception of the ventilation equipment, will be the nesting boxes and creep area which are designed to be easily removable. These will be discusses later in the report when I contemplate the flow of pigs through the system.

I designed the ventilation system based on information from “The Pork Industry Handbook”, by talking with local dealers, and from what I witnessed during my tour in Sweden. The ventilation system consists of three fans, a 22” 3800 cfm capacity fan, a smaller 700 cfm min. ventilation fan, and a air intake with a recirculating air blending fan. Each fan is wired to a fused switch and a variable speed switch. The minimum ventilation fan also includes a timer mechanism. The two exhaust fans are located above the ceiling to minimize noise within the structure. The air intake opens from pressure created by the exhaust fan, warm interior air pulled up by the recirculating air fan which mixes it with the incoming cold air and pushes the air mixture out across the ceiling and down. I discussed the ventilation system with Larry Jacobson of the University of Minnesota Ag Engineering Department while he visited my farm. He felt the fan capacities were appropriate for the building but felt there could be more air intake area. This will be considered depending on how well the system works during the upcoming winter months.

Our original plan was to start farrowing in the fall of 1994, breed and over winter gestating sows n the winter. We moved the start date back to the spring of 1995 due to planning considerations, financing options, and an opportunity to travel to Sweden and get a better understanding of just how this system worked. I returned from Sweden with a much better grasp of what and how I wanted to achieve my goals.

While in Sweden I learned there were actually two types of the Vastgotmodellen system. Type 1 called Ljungstrom, which is the most common, utilizes individual farrowing pens for two weeks and then moves the sows and piglets into a deep straw bedded nursery room. Type 2 called Thorstensson utilizes portable “nesting boxes” which are set up in the nursery and removed after 2 weeks. Our original plans were to set up the type 1 Ljungstrom system as this was the type highlighted in the New Farm article which first got me interested in this system. After seeing two farms using the Thorstensson type, I felt this was a more practical approach for my plans to run 1 group through the entire process in a one room building. We made our plans, ordered bred gilts to farrow in May, and developed cash flows and financing for our project during the winter months. The decision was made to quite my off farm job in late February and use my own skills to accomplish the remodeling. 90% of the remodeling I accomplished alone while family members aided me with pouring concrete and applying ceiling panels. Nesting boxes were built using ¾” treated plywood, they are “L” shaped, one side and one front, and when placed in succession along the outside walls, they form a rectangular box 5.5’ by 7.5’ standing 4’ tall. The entrance for the nesting box is 27” high by 24” wide located in the middle of the box front and 15” off the floor. There is a metal roller at the bottom of the door that helps protect the sows udders and prevents piglets from jumping out of the box to early. The boxes are put together with 28” metal rods, one rod attaches to the wall while the other attaches to the front corner of the previously installed box. With all the boxes tied in together with metal rods, the resulting row of nesting boxes is very strong and stable. The only change I plan for the nesting boxes is to put metal covering trim along each side of the entrance. The sows have a tendency to bite and peel off this area. This is not a huge problem but I feel my boxes will last considerably longer with this simple improvement.

We received our first group of 15 bred gilts on April 25, 1995. we had only planned on receiving 12, but the small scale breeder we worked with red 15 to guarantee us a full groups an didn’t have the facilities to keep the extras when they all got bred. We added two additional nesting boxes, one on each row and placed them on the concrete rise. The gilts were hand fed twice a day until the first sow farrowed on May 11th. All but one of our gilts farrowed between 5/11 and 5/20, the last farrowed on May 30th. In a typical Swedish system, having all sows farrow within 5 days works best for group lactation, but this is difficult to achieve when working with a group of all gilts. Three of the fifteen farrowed out in the middle, when this happened we moved the piglets into a box and forced the mother in and locked her in for half a day. It seemed once she milked her piglets in there she was content to call it home. The sow’s diet was a standard lactation feed blended at the local cooperative. The only adjustment was that I had them leave out the laxative because it wasn’t needed as the sows eat some of the bedding straw. My observations were that the sows that showed the most elaborate nesting behaviors were also the best milkers and mothers. These behaviors were noted for culling purposes. Although the farrowing period was stretched out longer than what we would have liked, it didn’t produce the cross-suckling problems we anticipated, with the exception of the one that farrowed on the 30th ten days behind the rest. Our biggest challenge was a case of scours about three weeks after the start of farrowing. We believe this was caused by a lack of using enough straw. We had difficulty reaching a dealer we had made arrangements with earlier and ran out of straw for about a week. We were prepared for this and jumped on treating them, what started out as a 4 on one day mushroomed to 35 three days later. Collecting 35 piglets twice a day for 3 days wasn’t fun, we did get on top of the problem and did not loose any piglets because of it. Overall, the farrowing went well, the piglets started on creep feed at about 2 weeks in an area set up on the concrete rise and gained nicely until weaning on June 25th. The lactation period for the majority of the sows was six weeks and was the result of a longer than expected farrowing period. We treated one sow for an udder infection. We used approximately 1.5 large round bales of straw per week throughout the lactation/nursery phase.

At weaning the piglets stayed in the building and sows were moved to a 12’ by 60’ lean to overhang on the north side of the building. This was constructed in June using purchased lumber and used tin I purchased for .06 cents per sq ft. The pure bred Hampshire boar I had gotten 2 weeks prior was in a fenced off area on the west end of this overhang. We had mated sows from June 30th to July 7th. Breeding back the sows was the least enjoyable and most costly aspect of our new enterprise. We planned on using a boar along with Artificial Insemination. We hadn’t planned on training a dysfunctional boar to mate. It turned out that the boar had a pocket in his sheath which gave him problem extending. After conferring with Dennis Kent of Iowa State Research Farms to figure this problem out, I learned I had to work his sheath to expel the urine and semen that had built up inside the pocket before he could extend normally. Well, after doing that 2-3 times a day for eight days, I knew why many producers are trending toward AI and closed herds. I also attempted AI on the sows. My goal was to breed each sow at least once with the boar and twice using AI. We accomplished this on 7 of the 15 sows, 6 of the 15 were only mated by AI, and 2 sows got sick and didn’t cycle. One sow that was sick died of pneumonia and related problems, the vet indicated after posing it that she had actually been sick for an extended period of time. We noticed we had piglets experiencing coughs and it was recommended to treat the group. At the end of this breeding cycle we allowed the boar to run free with the sows. The sows were now allowed access to 1.5 acres of sectioned off pasture for the remainder of this gestation cycle.

In our original plans we were only going to run one group of sows through the system in our first year. The building was to be shelter for the growers we would eventually give access to pasture. However, on July 10th, the breeder of our first group called with a problem. He had bred 14 gilts for an individual who now didn’t have the finances to pay for them. The gilts were due to farrow in 3-4 days and he didn’t have a home for them. We realized getting in bred gilts that close up was going to be problematic situation. We discussed it and decided to offer him $120.00 a piece to take them off his hands. We settled on $130.00 each. We pulled a truck and a trailer out on the pasture to give our growers temporary shelter, cleaned out the barn, and set up the nesting boxes. We took delivery of our second groups the day after he called us. The group started farrowing the next day and were all done in 5 days. The temperature outside at the time was 95 degrees. We lost one litter to heat stroke but were able to save the sow. We went through and processed all the pigs on one day and castrated 2 weeks later. We weaned the piglets on August 6th at 4 weeks and sold the sows two weeks after that for $120.00 each. We didn’t have al lot of investment in this group, but we had al lot of problems we had anticipated.

The number of pigs born dead was higher, and the number of layons was higher. The sows not having any time to get acquainted to their new surroundings were nervous and confused. Most sows actually picked out boxes, but when they left after farrowing would go into a different box and milk someone else’s piglets. One sow we had to remove her piglets after she gave birth because she was biting them. When all was said and done we ended up with 86 weaned pigs. In some ways, this shows the versatility of the system. We were also able to see the difference in labor it made when you had a group farrow in just 5 days, processing and castrating flowed like clockwork, less straw and feed were used during the shorter lactation period. This group of growers remained in the barn for 3 months and were moved to my brother-in-laws where they are being fed out and will be marketed in January 1996. This group is doing extremely well and to this point has received no antibiotics.

Our first group of growers, now on pasture, were supplied with two portable 12’ by 20’ shelters we picked up for $100.00. They remained on pasture until marketing them over a 3 week period from the end of October to the middle of November.

We moved out our second group of growers to set up and use the barn for the first group of sows we had bred back in July. We had culled out 5 sows and the boar from that group at the time we sold out the 2nd group of sows. Of the remaining 9 sows only 4 looked eminently pregnant, 3 looked possibly pregnant, and 2 were definitely not pregnant. We decided to move the 4 into the barn and sold the remaining sows to slaughter. We are very disappointed with our breeding success (or lack of it). While talking with various farmers who visited our farm and with some of the breeders I’ve been working with, I learned that we weren’t the only ones who had problems breeding back sows during the hot summer weather. I also learned that it is not that uncommon to get a nonperforming boar. We are struggling with exactly what changes we need to make to improve breeding performance. There is a lot to e said for using AI and maintaining a closed herd, but with our lack of experience, I’m leery of that prospect. I do know that for next year I will order in open gilts to be available at breeding, and do pregnancy testing at 5 weeks. Than I can order in bred gilts to fill out the group if I have to. I also have some neighbors who are maintaining closed herds who may be willing to work with me if I chose that route.

The previous page indicates the production results of the first two groups we farrowed under this new system. I also included a basic financial enterprise report. The financial report includes all the cost of setting up and running this system. Only two items, a 1 ton feeder, and a old Minnesota manure spreader, were non cost items left over from our past livestock years. The operation shows a net loss of $3,437.00 dollars. However, if you consider that there was $24,600.00 dollars of capital purchases and livestock supplies purchased and only $13,920.00 in loan money received, the operation had to pay for $10,682.00 in capital investment all in the first year of operation. This would indicate a net worth increase of $7,213.00. Although there will be come capital improvements made to this system next year, I anticipate a profitable system based on a capital investment load payment of only $2,400.00 for 1996. This financial report also does not show some of the input reductions realized by adding a livestock enterprise. By next spring, we will have spread composted manure on approximately 30 acres of crop land. If you consider a 20.00/acre input reduction you have saved yourself an extra 600.00 dollars of fertilizer expense. Based on this information, I would consider this to be a financially successful addition to our farm operation.

The family and community orientated goals we considered at the start of this project were extremely successful. The very low smell, low stress, natural environment, animal friendly design of this system made doing the work a very enjoyable, often relaxing, family endeavor. If you could put a dollar amount on a smile, a good down to earth belly laugh, or the look of amazement we experienced over this summer, we are very well off. They say if you enjoy what I’m doing, I’m more inclined to be satisfied with what I have, what more do you really need than to enjoy life and be happy. This system is very user friendly for your family or your fired help. The comments I received during my open house from local area residents, to the people from great distances were appreciative and supporting. I feel that social impact of utilizing this type of system is enormous when you look at the current controversy over the direction of the hog industry. The main consideration for this system is weather or not it can compete with the current trends. If it can, it will give producers and communities and consumers a choice.

There are some management and facilities improvement slated for 1996. On management I intend to run 2 groups of sows (12 each) starting March 1st. this will allow me to farrow 4 times over the summer, producing about 96 growers to go to market per each group. Three groups will be fed out for market hogs and one group will be sold as feeder pigs. On facilities, I will install a permanent boundary fence around intended pasture are and use current portable fence to section off areas for rotational grazing. The lean to on the north side of my present barn will be partially enclosed and concreted adding water supply lines to better utilize this area for mating and gestation or even a grower finishing area.

Our field day was held on June 8, 1995 from 9:00 to 1:00. Dennis Kent from Iowa State Research Farms, Marlene Halverson currently a consultant for the outlying research farms for this system based our of ISU, and myself were speakers at the event. Coffee and cookies were available at 9:00 am and video tapes of my trip to Sweden were playing for people to view as they waited for the program to begin. It was the coldest day we had in June, the temperature was about 40 degrees and it was breezy. We had cleaned out the shop area of our shed and set up brick and board benches. We had a microphone and speaker set up for the speakers to use. The program started at 10:00 and ran till 11:30. This was followed by a lunch of ham sandwiches and beans. We had 64 people sign the register for this event, but we estimate there were closer to 100 people attending. Many of the local people attending didn’t sign the register. About 40 people who signed the register came from over 50 miles away, 1 couple came from Iowa, and 1 man came from Wisconsin. Much of the publicity about this event came from an article that was run prior to the event in AgriNews on May 25th. AgriNews is an all Ag newspaper that covers the entire state of Minnesota and northern Iowa. The article combined with a press release that was sent out to all radio stations and newspapers in our immediate 5 county area, prompted two radio stations to call me to conduct live interviews just prior to the open house. One of these interviews was aired over a general Ag commentary program that was broadcast over various radio stations across Minnesota. Also near the end of our field day a reporter and camera man from KSAX, a local TV news station based out of Alexandria, MN did a interview with me that resulted in a 10 second spot during the 10:00pm telecast. A newspaper reporter for the Willmar Tribune attended the field day and wrote a nice article entitled “Pigs in Paradise” which came out on the day after our event. All articles were very positive about what I was doing. In October which is pork month, I was contacted by the Land; a regional Ag newspaper for another article, this complete issue was dedicated exclusively to the hog industry. This article prompted a live radio interview on KDUZ based out of Hutchinson, MN during their morning farm show. The most recent event to publicize information was the North American Symposium of AFSR/E, “Linkages among Farming Systems and Communities” on November 5-8. Marlene Halverson and I participated in a Poster Session and conducted a panel discussion entitled “Importing a Sustainable and Animal – Friendly Pig Production Model from Sweden”.

There had been a lot of interest developed concerning this system of producing pigs. I have conducted 4 separate tours of my facility since my open house. The follow up on this publicity will be in January when a complete farm analysis of the system along with this report, will be mailed to all individuals who have contacted or visited our farm.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.