The new sty is in use!
The time has come. The new sty is up and running and the first 528 pigs (in six sections) have been placed. On Tuesday 10 June, two groups of 44 pigs became the first residents of our innovative sty. It was an exciting day, a day I’d been working towards for years. Would everything work as planned? Would the pigs do what I’d hoped they’d do? For the first few days I must have gone back and forth to the sty to look at the pigs at least 20 times a day. After a couple of days I felt reassured, and after the fourth day, section two was brought into use.
The pigs seem happy. They’re lively and full of vitality, happily running around all over the place. The increased floor space is doing them good. But the temperature of the floor also plays an important part in this, as does the fact that the floor stays clean.
Their own comfort zone
Looking for just the right cooling temperature for the floor was another journey into the unknown. While one fellow farmer or expert was saying that the floor shouldn’t be cooler than 20 degrees, another claimed that pigs are actually used to an outdoor temperature of 12 degrees. So there were plenty of people to ask, but no one who knew exactly what was best. In the end, the answer was to be found in a solution we’d actually intended for heating, not for cooling. To heat the floor we had divided it into three zones, so that on cold days we didn’t have to heat all of it. That would be far too big a surface area. On cold days we only heat the middle zone. That’s sufficient because the pigs seek each other out when it’s cold and lie down together. And the middle zone is big enough for that.
Now it turns out that these three zones work well for cooling too. We discovered that we didn’t have to cool the middle zone, just the outer two (with water at 16 degrees). This gives you a floor temperature of 22 degrees in the cooled zones, while the rest of it reaches 27 degrees. So now the pigs can choose to be where they feel most comfortable. You can see them looking all around the section for their perfect place.
Our ideas about keeping the floor of the sty clean seem to be working as well. Firstly, we created a nice clean floor by choosing the right materials. The floor of our sty has a hard top layer, which ensures that any waste that does fall on the floor doesn’t get encrusted, but gets washed off instead. Secondly, we keep the floor clean by influencing the pigs’ excretory behaviour. When we first place the pigs, we scatter some feed on the floor. And in the corners where the pigs still want to excrete we hang up distractions they can play with. And all of this works. Pigs will not excrete where they eat and play. They look around for the right place to do it, and that way they learn where their toilet is in just a few days.
It works! A clean floor, a bigger surface area and the right temperature make the pigs feel good. You can tell from their behaviour and their feed intake. They eat well, which means they grow well. I am one satisfied farmer. In the next five weeks I expect all the sections to be filled. My dream seems to be coming true.