Innovation is about experimenting and learning. In my last blog, I discussed the renovation of the weaning-piglet barn. This renovation was necessary in order to enable us to take the next step in the ‘long-tails project’ on our farm. The meat-pig barn met all of the requirements, as did the maternity pen, but the accommodation for the weaning piglets needed modifying. This modification has since been completed, and thirty per cent of the barn is now made up of steel grilles (at the front and back of the barn), while the remaining seventy per cent is made up of a solid, convex concrete floor that can be heated and cooled as necessary.
The first group of long-tailed piglets was weaned in the renovated barn this year, and things initially went well. After a while, however, we noticed that the piglets’ excretory behaviour caused dried manure to stick to their tails, resulting in irritation and itching. This led to tail-biting, which alleviates itching. By acting quickly, we were able to prevent the piglets from suffering greater distress. We wet the grilles where the piglets excreted so that the manure passed through more effectively, and we sprinkled the piglets with soya oil to prevent the manure from sticking to their bodies.
After the renovation, it was clear to us the piglets’ excretory behaviour needed to be improved. However, it was obvious that the method we had discovered was both very expensive and labour-intensive, making it difficult for other farmers to adopt. We therefore set about looking for an alternative – a method that would be more appealing to roll out at other farms. We are currently working on this alternative in the second weaning-piglet barn, where we are installing the following:
- Slurry trays underneath the steel grilles
Like in the first barn, steel grilles are being installed at the front and back of the second barn for the piglet’s excretion. We are now also going to install slurry trays under these grilles to enable the slurry to be removed more frequently, which is also better for the climate in the barn.
- Prefab floor panels instead of poured concrete
This time around, we are not replacing the synthetic grilles in between the steel grilles with a full poured concrete floor; instead, we are laying prefab concrete floor panels, or composite parts, which are equipped with pipes for heating and cooling the floor. In addition to being easier to install, the advantage of these composite grilles is that they fit in the existing supporting beams for the synthetic grilles. This gives us the advantages of concrete (heating and cooling) without the disadvantages of a poured concrete floor.
- Section of plastic grille on either side
On either side of these prefab composite grilles, we are retaining a section of synthetic grille to prevent contamination of the pens.
We’re in the middle of a learning and development process here in Valkenswaard, and are now awaiting delivery of the slurry trays. When the trays arrive, we will install them in our first renovated barn and in the second barn so the prefab floor can be laid there. Once both barns are finished, we will get started with the second group of undocked piglets. We will divide a maternity department of 120 piglets between the two barns in order to compare the results to see what we can learn from them.