Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

A pig farming enterprise can be very profitable, but then the entire process needs to be approached and managed in the right manner from the get-go. The first step is setting up the right housing and this article highlights several pitfalls to avoid.

Pigs are sensitive animals with diverse needs, depending on the production stage they are in, and their housing must provide for all these needs. For example, smaller piglets are particularly prone to dying if it is too cold, whereas reproducing pigs must be protected from excessive heat. Hence, pig housing must be able to protect the animals from extreme temperatures and climate conditions such as cold winds and persistent rain.

Martin Hobbs, director of New Quip, a company that specialises in the design and construction of pig housing, says the design should allow for easy movement in and between the pens. In addition, it should be practical so as to simplify management and reduce the number of workers needed, while also allowing for easy expansion as the farming enterprise grows.

Stephan Heyl is the managing director of Dalein Plaasbou, which designs a host of housing facilities for commercial pig producers. First and foremost, he says, is the location of the housing in relation to markets. The premises must be located as close as possible to one or more abattoirs, as well as to maize-producing areas.

The premises must also not be in bio- and/or hydrologically sensitive parts of the country, as this could have a serious impact on the cost and feasibility of the environmental impact study, he believes. Furthermore, it is necessary to look at available infrastructure such as electricity, water and roads before embarking on the path to pig production.

The most important aspects in the pig housing planning phase are its size, the materials you want to use, shade and space for moving.

Pen size and flooring

Martin says the size of the pig housing depends on the number of sows the producer plans on keeping. Stephan adds that legislation stipulates a prescribed minimum area for each facet of the production cycle. “As for the intensive pig production industry, we do not like to house all the animals under one roof, since each production phase has different area, temperature and ventilation requirements. Hence, different pens will have different sizes.

The farrowing unit must be designed in a way that allows for easy control and management. The floors are especially important.
The farrowing unit must be designed in a way that allows for easy control and management. The floors are especially important. (Photograph: Dalein Plaasbou)

“The floors in the pig pens need due consideration and must be designed in a way that facilitates easy cleaning and will keep injuries to a minimum. The floors in intensive farming setups usually consist of solid concrete, concrete slats, cast iron or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The type of material utilised varies from phase to phase,” he says.

According to Martin, there currently are no prescribed standards or requirements for the floors in pig housing, but he expects this to change soon. “This aspect of the structure must be of high quality. We advise our customers not to skimp in this area, but to rather cut costs on something else. The floor is the ‘foundation’ of the pig production enterprise and is difficult to remedy later.”

Materials for housing

There are different types of materials available for pig housing construction, depending on the budget. Stephan says that bricks, concrete, steel, PVC or polypropylene can be utilised when erecting pens and partitions. Each has its advantages and disadvantages while the requirements of each phase of the production cycle are also different. For this reason, it is best to call in the help of an expert.

Intensive pig production is a science that needs to be approached and managed in the right way from the get-go. Pig housing constitutes the greatest expense in this regard and therefore deserves meticulous planning.
Intensive pig production is a science that needs to be approached and managed in the right way from the get-go. Pig housing constitutes the greatest expense in this regard and therefore deserves meticulous planning. (Photograph: Dalein Plaasbou)

Martin’s advice is to use as much stainless steel, plastic and galvanised products in the pens as possible. There is nothing dainty about pig farming and the material must be able to withstand the roughest of conditions.

The outer part of the pens usually comprises a stone or concrete construction. “Using the correct cement mixture is vital, especially in places where the animals come into direct contact with the walls.”

Shade and ventilation

Temperature regulation in pig housing facilities is vital, as smaller piglets can easily succumb in cold weather, whereas larger sows are unable to handle extreme heat. Since pigs lack sweat glands, Stephan explains, they regulate their temperature mainly through their mouths. Pigs can therefore easily get sunburnt, which is why shade is essential.

During the planning phase, they usually try to lay out the housing at an upward sloping angle while having the long axis run from east to west. This means the walls will be exposed to as little sun as possible in summer.

Because of pigs’ sensitivity to extreme cold and heat, curtains can be used to regulate temperatures. (Photograph: Dalein Plaasbou)

“When planning a new unit,” Martin adds, “the location of the sun must be considered throughout, so as to keep the morning and late afternoon sun from flooding the building.”

Good, natural ventilation in the units helps protect the pigs from extreme heat and cold. Heat control during winter should also be part and parcel of the process. It is worthwhile installing curtains that can be drawn to minimise the chances of cold winds affecting the smaller piglets.

Due to the importance of temperature control, it is sometimes necessary to install air conditioning. However, because it is such an expensive process, it is usually only feasible if the farm has 500 or more sows.

“Ventilation is one aspect we can control to ensure maximum growth and thus higher profits. The more constant the temperature and the closer as possible to optimal for the specific phase, the better growth can be achieved using the same amount of feed. However, there is also a set minimum ventilation that must be maintained to counteract the negative influence of toxic gases,” says Stephan.

Hygiene and health management

Because pigs are housed in groups, health management is an integral part of the design of pig housing. According to Stephan, modern intensive pig housing now boasts effluent (manure and urine) channels underneath the pens.

“The more channels there are, the cleaner the pens and the less labour is required. The incidence of diseases also decreases due to the cleaner pens and less movement of people between pens.

“It is also vital to include pest control for birds and rats. Biosecurity is extremely important to protect your investment and there are minimum standards that your fences, offices, procedures and so on must meet,” says Stephan.

Building good housing for a successful pig farming enterprise is no easy task. Do call on experts to approach the project in the right manner from the outset, as this will save you money and maximise your pig production profits. – Koos du Pisanie

For more information, phone Martin Hobbs on 082 610 0960 or Stephan Heyl on 083 452 5600 or 071 936 9311.

Boerbokmark, grain, acidosis, mikotoksiene