AGILO welfare housing equipment: sows and piglets enjoy living in a shared house
Farmer Florian Hoenmans-Leurs keeps his sows and their piglets in groups; all housing equipment stands for animal welfare and was purchased from Big Dutchman. In an interview full of information, the farmer explains why he selected the innovative AGILO farrowing system.
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Would you briefly introduce yourself and your project?
My name is Florian Hoenmans-Leurs. I live on the Hoenmans farm in the beautiful Lower Rhine region, where I have an agriculture company together with my father. We keep sows in a partially closed system and cultivate land.
When we started to plan a new pig house three or four years ago, I researched farrowing systems very intensively.
I learned more and more about group movement pens as an alternative to the classic variable-restraint pen. I very much liked the advantages of the group pen so I finally decided to install this system.
What is so special about keeping lactating sows in groups?
Our current farrowing system is special because instead of the standard single sow stalls, we use a group housing system.
The sows are not kept individually during the suckling period, but in groups of eight sows each from a certain day. On our farm, this is usually day 8 or 9 after farrowing. The sows can then interact within their group.
I wanted to make sure that the equipment is robust and simple as well as very user-friendly, with few parts that can break or that move. At the same time, I prioritised freedom of movement and as much comfort as possible for the animals.
What are your challenges during daily work in the house?
The main challenge during daily inspection rounds in the farrowing house is that the pigs are no longer in individual pens, but run around in one large pen. As a sow farmer, this makes quite the difference when I check the animals during the day. The inspection certainly takes a bit longer than before.
But I am happy to spend the time in this system. I enjoy watching how the animals interact and I see many situations that would not have happened in the old farrowing system.
Can you name some advantages of AGILO?
After two years of working with this system, I can certainly highlight some advantages. The biggest one is that the sows have so much space to move. Because of the group pen, an area of around 30 m2 is available to every sow. This boosts the animals’ metabolism, increases feed intake and keeps the sows in a good condition so the piglets receive lots of milk.
Another advantage is that the piglets get to know each other from day 7 or 8 so they have established a hierarchy long before they are weaned. There is less biting after weaning and we see very few ranking fights.
How about losses due to overlying?
Because the sows are not restrained, you might assume that we have high losses caused by overlying in the group pen. That is not the case for us. Experience has shown that our piglet mortality until weaning is below 10 %.
In general, we are very happy that we selected group lactation pens and would always take this decision again.
Any changes we would make are small design features that have not influenced performance so far.
How are the piglets fed?
To compensate fluctuations in the sow’s milk yield, we decided to install the Culina feeding system for suckling pigs in the new sow house. This system helps us to support the piglets very well from the beginning. Additionally, they get used to the dry pre-starter feed early on for a smooth transition after weaning.
The planning and equipment installation process with Big Dutchman went very well from the start. We had some issues due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but the house was still ready for use within half a year.
Since we wanted to keep all our options open for the future, we made sure that the animals are able to reach the outer walls from all pens of the new house. This will enable us to add an open-air run later on if we want to.