The ultimate checklist for rebuilding a prime swine facility

  • Rebuilding or remodeling a swine facility can be a daunting task. Defining clear goals and focusing on key areas of importance can help shape decisions that work best for your particular operation.

Are you looking to rebuild or remodel your swine production facility? The prospect of taking on the rigorous endeavor can be daunting. Russell Gilliam, Alltech's U.S. swine business manager, has a list of areas that he feels are most important for rebuilding a facility to lower costs and increase comfort for workers and pigs. He asks questions that are important to consider and includes helpful tips from his 20 years of experience in the swine industry.


The following is a checklist with Gilliam’s suggestions, consolidated from his talk at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference 2017.



What are your goals?


What would you like to accomplish? What type of market are you going to sell to? What do you already have in your barns that will work?


Picture your ideal operation. What does it look like? What does it not look like? If you have an ideal operation in mind, you can proceed to making the more technical decisions that are going to produce the facility that will help you reach your goals. 



Master checklist for remodeling/rebuilding swine production facilities




  • Crates or pens

This may differ based on your farm location due to laws and regulations.


Questions to consider: How big are your pens? How many pigs per pen? How big are the pigs?


  • Penning equipment

“Oftentimes, we select our penning equipment based on the animals in the barn, and we may forget about the opportunity to increase worker safety and comfort while replacing gates,” said Gilliam.


Questions to consider: Does this work for the animal and employees?


TIP: A walk-through gate might be easier for employees to use. Easier access means better animal care and improvements in animal performance.





  • Monitoring equipment

Will the facility be strictly for production, or will there be research done as well?


  • Fans

There are different demands based on location and climate. Match your selection to the air quality expectations in your area.


  • Heaters

What kind of heater do you really need? Will it be used for small or young pigs, or is one required to heat the barn throughout the life cycle?


  • Concrete slats

Check the width of the opening. Is it too wide? Sometimes hooves can get stuck in slats that are too wide, causing injury.


Check the thickness of the slats. Are they strong enough to hold the pigs?


Research the supplier. Do they have a good track record in the industry?



LED or inexpensive lighting


Inexpensive lighting can reduce costs upfront.


LED lighting can extend the day length for pigs, stimulate feed intake and put workers in a better mood.


Although it costs more, LED lights may help you save money in the long run. You will need fewer lights, and they tend to last longer than inexpensive lights. There are also energy grants available in the U.S. for reduced electricity costs.


TIP: “Pigs don’t see very well, so we need to make sure we have the lights placed where they eat and drink,” said Gilliam.





  • Electronic or manual feeding

Electronic feeding allows producers to track the animals’ eating habits in real time: if they are eating, when they are eating and how much they consume. This information can be seen by the producer on his/her phone anywhere.


Manual feeding (hand-feeding or drop boxes) allows for changes or alterations to be made while walking through the barn. Additionally, it eliminates the worry of technology breakdowns.


  • Bins

How many bins are needed? Will they run in tandem? How many phases will you feed?


TIP: If feeding in multiple phases, consider adding bins.



Feeding system


There are numerous feeding systems on the market. Match your choice to your expectations and to the volume of feed that will be going through your barn.


TIP: “Keep in mind how many times (the feeding system) will have to turn corners in your barns because some technology can turn around corners easier than others,” said Gilliam.


  • Feeders

What type of genetics are you feeding? How do they eat? All day? Three times per day?


TIP: For pigs that eat a certain number of times per day, make sure that the feeder is larger and has more space to help reduce aggression.





  • Water meters

“I’m a big fan of water meters,” said Gilliam. “I really feel like they help us to make early production decisions based on the health of our pigs, and it tells us when they’re stressed.”


  • Water medicators

Water medicators make it easier to have water interventions. Interventions can be done more quickly and can be monitored to ensure the desired response. There are different styles and types of medicators, and they should be matched to their usage purpose and rate.


  • Drinkers

Who is drinking: sows, nursery or grow-finish pigs? Will the drinkers be hanging, swinging or mounted to the wall? Will you use pans, cups or nibble bars? 

Consider looking at different types of nipple technology.


TIP: Avoid spraying. In addition to water waste, spraying can scare young pigs. “If we splash them in the face, they have a little bit of reluctance to go drink,” said Gilliam.



Final thoughts


Gilliam said the following three items are his non-negotiables: water medicators, water meters and LED lighting. The extra benefits, especially for the health and welfare of the pig, far outweigh the extra costs.


New technology, such as sensors, can also be beneficial to your operation. Sensors on sows allow convenience and efficiency in multiple areas. They can send a message to your phone when the sow is ready to farrow, prompting a heat lamp to automatically turn on just for that sow and not the entire barn. This greatly reduces energy cost and is better for the overall care of the pigs.


One of the most exciting innovations, however, is electronic barn monitoring. Gilliam calls it “the future of (the pig business).” It allows you to monitor the barn remotely, see problems in specific pens and then communicate it to all your farm workers.


“I can connect every single piece of my farm to my phone and then send it right out to the internet so that my farm managers can see it,” said Gilliam.


Rebuilding or remodeling can be nerve-wracking. However, knowing where to be frugal and where to invest your money will help you make decisions that work best for your operation and, as Gilliam said, “give your animals the opportunity to reach optimum performance.”



Have a question or comment?