In 1993/4 Newsham Hybrid Pigs took the first steps in developing a building design which became known as a Nursery. They felt that pork meat’s biggest competitor was chicken and that chicken production systems enjoyed an advantage in that they utilised every square meter of expensive building floor space.
Why not then rear pigs in the same way? They utilised some old small pen flat decks, in need of refurbishment anyway, removed the penning and observed. As with much blue sky thinking there were setbacks, surprises and a significant increase in the knowledge of how pigs behaved in large groups in intensive weaner accommodation.
Zones for feeding, drinking, dunging and lying were identified and ventilation requirements specified. The absence of, or at least no increase in, vice or disease was noted. Indeed it soon became obvious that the larger numbers in the group led to fewer interactions and that the introduction of a few to the many was possible if required. Double sided facilities proved to be the most effective layout with a centrally placed lying area and feeders and drinkers to both sides of this keeping ‘lines of intent’ short. The proportion of overall length to width of the pen was also found to be important with a 2.5/3.5:1 range acceptable. Twenty three years later these basic rules still hold good. The intervening years have seen a continuous programme of improvements in building construction and equipment.
In 1999 the first purpose built nursery was constructed for Newsham Hybrid Pigs with a 40% solid lying area and the first UK usage of Skov ventilation in a piggery. That floors were generally kept clean was a testament to the ventilation, the layout and the excellent stockmanship. The central comfort/lying area has variously been insulated concrete, electric or water filled heat mats, even kennel lids, the latter fortunately not proving popular. The majority are now removable comfort mats with a removable heat source above, proving most popular as the age of pig housed in a nursery has increased. The absence of draughts means that the piglets initially have to be taught where to lie, feed and drink. Preferred dunging is in a corner and in a nursery pen the four corners are happily already in the dunging areas. Traditionally post weaning accommodation was divided into two stages of approximately four to five weeks occupancy each with the 30kg plus grower then entering the bacon or finisher house.
Most intensive units in the UK were tied to this system and when replacement accommodation was required a weaner or grower building was constructed. Stage 1 and stage 2 flat decks having originally replaced the veranda weaner and grower houses were in their turn only slowly yielding to the nursery.
Further trials were conducted to see if there was a performance advantage to be gained from amalgamating the two stages and in effect providing a grower place for every weaned pig. These proved to be very successful for several reasons. The elimination of a move after first stage coupled with its associated growth check, the fact that the pigs only filled the space once not twice, the provision of eight and not nine or ten rooms for the same exit weight and halving the amount of power washing proved financially beneficial.
Nevertheless adoption of the two move production system over the three was not universal.
It is a regrettable fact that change is effected most rapidly by necessity. The final push to widespread acceptance was brought about by the arrival of PDNS or Wasting Disease. The announcement by a French researcher that a significant trigger for the disease was stressing pigs, particularly by moving them at between 15 and 30kgs ensured, as a readymade solution, nurseries were widely adopted. It only remained for the ingenuity of farmers and their advisors to come into play to overcome any practical problems thrown up.
The large group of between 60 and 250 pigs in intensive accommodation was here to stay. When the same principles were extended to finishers the need to market the pigs rather than just move them proved, until the arrival of auto sorting systems, impossible; but that is another story.
Here we have a design which is robust, tried and tested, with well established principles. That no further revolutionary designs have stood this test of time could lead one to think that that is the end of the story.
This is wrong as no system worth its salt can afford to stand still. We are aware that we have customers with the same basic buildings varying from 450 to 650gms daily live weight gain. Whilst we cannot control other factors causing this variation we feel that we must ensure that the aspects we do control in no way hold the pigs back. In addition we would be failing if there was not a constant search for improvement.
To this end we are now offering building shells lowering ‘u’ values from .43 to .34 w/m2. In addition we have been monitoring initial installations and consequently are to offer ventilation control linked directly to CO2 sensors, making the already responsive ventilation more sensitive to the pig’s activity levels. This shows a real saving in energy costs and highlights the current attention given to the subject. Skov, likewise, are constantly searching for improvement and have launched a new high efficiency fan moving more air for less energy. We have installations using recovered heat to warm comfort areas, and farm generated power increasingly contributes to the running of nurseries.
The biggest recent contribution to efficiency has been the adoption of the Crystal Spring feeders in both standard and Water-Space configurations.
Crystal Springs Feeder
This wet/dry shelf feeder literally has the potential to waste nothing whilst increasing palatability and is as good at feeding meal as pellets. The Water-Space provides a temporary ‘water bowl’ within the feeder, maintained at a constant shallow level by a diaphragm, which reverts to a standard wet/dry feeder after ten days or so.
This boosts early gains and the higher take off speed ensures a steeper rate of growth.
Crystal Springs Feeder Diagram
So what of the future? As already stated the basic principles of the nursery are so perfectly matched to pig behaviour and requirements that it is difficult to see any major redesign. Other systems have, in the meantime, been and gone whilst the Nursery sails on. As a facility for producing pigs of 30 to 50Kgs it will take some beating. Continued improvements in wall surface materials, energy usage and environmental control will all contribute to the nurseries success.
The story is ongoing for as this article goes to press trials are being arranged for a new patented air ionisation system in both a nursery and finisher building hoping to replicate the quite startling results being achieved on an increasing number of American installations. This is not a new principle, although the delivery method is, and we are hoping, for instance, to replicate the more than 10% growth boost that Murphy Brown recorded in their trial nurseries. We believe we are on the verge of being able to provide genuinely clean air, simply and affordably, in intensive buildings.
No stage of a pig’s development is unimportant but what is achieved, or not, in the post weaning period influences its whole life performance and highlights the importance of post weaning accommodation.