Performance and Economics of a Low-Input Farrow to Feeder Swine Operation
1) To evaluate behavior and biological performance of pigs housed in an alternative, low-input
system compared to a fully confined system.
2) Perform complete economic analysis of the two systems.
The project involved the construction and study of a low-input swine housing unit. Comparisons
were made between 20 sows in the low-input environment to 20 sows in a conventional
confinement system (high-input). Pigs were of identical genetics and age. The low-input facility
consisted of three pens located in an uninsulated, naturally ventilated pole barn. Two pens were
used to house gestating sows, while the third pen was used to house farrowing-lactating sows
and weaned pigs. Each pen had a super-insulated waterer that required no energy. Sows were fed
ad libitum every other day during gestation. A one foot deep bed of straw provided insulation for
the piglets and allowed sows to exercise nesting behavior. One week before the farrowing dates,
farrowing cubicles (made out of plywood sheets) were placed along the side walls of the
farrowing pen. The cubicles were removed when the piglets were one week old. Piglets were
weaned at 4-6 weeks of age.
The high-input group produced more pigs than the low-input group. This difference was mostly
due to the piglet mortality. However, during the summer months, sows in the low-input group
weaned more pigs than sows in the high-input group, which confirms that the environment (i.e.
room temperature) plays a significant role in determining piglet mortality. Gilts in the low-input
group remained in good physical condition even after 7 weeks of lactation. This difference in
body condition may have influenced the proportion of sows culled. Providing straw and space
for exercise reduced the frequency of stereotypies, and promoted non-aggressive social
interaction among sows. Housing design did not influence the proportion of successful suckling,
nor whether the sows or the piglets initiated sucklings.
The low-input system minimizes two major inputs used in conventional intensive swine
production: capital expenditures and energy utilization. Labor requirements were fairly similar
for both groups.