Smart farming with free access stalls

Innovative group sow housing without electronics.

Today ag news is full of information about the latest digital equipment promising to revolutionize farming.  Nowhere is this attitude more prevalent than the topic of group sow housing.  But technology and innovation doesn’t mean that the solution must consist of electronics, PLCs and connectivity to the internet.  It can be innovative designs that resolves production issues and improves your bottom-line profitability.

Free Access Stalls (FAS) offer a unique solution to group sow housing that is labor friendly.   FAS combines standard equipment, the sow stall, with an animal-activated access gate.  Farm labor isn’t really required to learn new skills.  Individual sows can be locked in place for supplemental feeding, breeding, or treatments.

(Sow lifts front trigger gate locking rear door down behind her.)

The feeding system is also familiar to farm labor. It’s the same auger system with adjustable feed drops used for years in stall configurations. Maintenance personal already possess the skills needed to replace a feed line motor or relay switch.  Compare this to ESF systems and the skills needed to repair electronic components or troubleshoot internet connections.

Maybe you have noticed the escalating auction prices for older tractors.  Besides a shortage of new equipment, this increasing demand is also driven by farmers’ desire to own equipment that can be repaired on the farm. The same is true for computerized feeding systems.  Once you commit to a brand of ESF equipment, you must rely on that company for repair parts.  While you can shop a replacement feed motor, you cannot price around for a replacement circuit board.

(Sows choosing to lounge in FAS.  Each stall provides refuge to individual sows.)  

There is a solid case to be made for FAS being the most welfare-friendly system.  In ESF systems, much attention is paid to providing escape areas for less dominant animals, such as T pen layouts and extra dividing walls.  With FAS systems, each stall is an escape area where individual sows can seek refuge.   One of the most common reactions after viewing a FAS building is surprise at the number of sows choosing to lounge in the stalls.

Free Access Stalls can also function with existing ESF, stanchion, or other group housing systems currently utilizing stalls for breeding.   Replacing those standard stalls with FAS provides a welfare compliance solution that provides individual care during breeding and preg checking.

Technology has its place in modern swine production.  No one would suggest returning to mechanical thermostats to control ventilation.  Computerized controls and sensors provide a much more accurate solution to managing building environments.  Record keeping has also benefited from electronic collection with handheld RFID readers scanning individual sow tags allowing caretakers to record data accurately.

Producers should evaluate every new technology through the lens of whether it contributes to the farm’s overall profits.  FAS offers a cost-effective, more labor-friendly solution to welfare concerns for sow housing.   Click for more information on Free Access Stalls.  Click to view a video of the FAS in use.