This week at the swine farm we set up special pens for a research project that is going on at our second farm unit that we call the ‘metabolism’ unit. In the picture I have posted, you can see that these pens are raised off the floor and are 4×4 pens. They house 2 small pigs per pen and have 2 external feeders on each one. This week we pulled the pens out of our storage barn and placed them into the metabolism unit, they’ve been power washed and the waterers have been set up. After everything has been set up large sheets up plexiglass that are an inch thick are set in grooves at the center of the pens to separate the two pigs that will be held in the pens. Setting up these research pens took most of the week to complete, other than that, we have been busy replacing more curtains that I discussed in last weeks blog. Have a great weekend!
Curtain in need of replacement
This week at the MSU Swine Farm, we have been repairing 20 year old curtain systems. These curtain systems are on the outside of the barn and automatically lower and raise with the temperature. During the winter the curtain are all the way up and shut off, so when spring and summer come around the curtains begin to show their age by breaking or just not working at all and this past winter most of the curtains reached the point of needing immediate repairs. This summer we’ve decided to completely replace all of the curtains around the farm and it is going to take at least another month to fully replace everything. This curtain system is very important because it allows for proper ventilation during the summer months, proper air flow provides cooler temperatures for the livestock inside. There are large barn fans on one side of each room in the barn and then curtains on the other, when the static air system determines that the room temperature is to high then it will turn the fans on and lower the curtains. Repairing these systems is not easy and requires plenty of patience and man hours, there is a complex mix of cables, pulleys, and rods that all need to be the correct length to work together efficiently. When everything is all done, this ventilation can help provide livestock with the proper ventilation that will prevent stress and overheating which could lead to death.
This week at the MSU swine farm was a slower week than last week. Farrowing is all done and now we are monitoring the piglets and the sows to ensure their health. Each morning sows are fed, after sows are fed we then make sure each sow stands up and begins eating, if the sow(s) won’t get up we evaluate whether the sow is sick or just unwilling to stand up, if it’s determined that the sow is sick, she is then treated, this process happens three times a day. Once the sows are fed and monitored, then a team consisting of a manager and employee will evaluate each litter, watching for fall-back pigs that have not been properly nursing, any pig(s) that are determined ‘fall-back’ pigs, are moved to the ‘milk deck’ which is a system that allows these piglets to consume milk replacer. After each litter of piglets is examined, then all the sows fecal matter is removed from behind each sow and dumped into the manure system, this process is done each morning to ensure piglet survivability and increase the number of pigs weaned. This past week did not have very much going on, normally the week after farrowing is a week of catching up on simple maintenance and routine power washing.
This past week at the MSU Swine Teaching and Research Facility has been ‘Farrowing week’, farrowing is the term used when a sow births piglets. Throughout the week 51 sows have had their litters, the largest litter was 18 piglets and the smallest litter was 3 piglets. This is an undesirably large gap of piglets born alive but it’s unfortunately typical on the MSU farm, the ideal litter size would be between 12-15 piglets per sow.
After the piglets are born, they are given a shot of a slow release antibiotic called ‘Excede’, this helps boost their immune system for the first few hours of their life. After a sow is finished farrowing she is given oxytocin, which is a muscle relaxant, oxytocin is administered in order to help release any placenta or piglets that may be retained. Twelve hours after piglets are born they are processed, processing consists of ear notching for identification, tail docking to prevent tail-biting at an older age, and then given a shot of iron. Since the piglets do not have access to dirt which contains iron, piglets may suffer from iron deficiency, in order to prevent this they are given a .25 ml shot of iron.
This entire week has been surrounded around farrowing, therefore, there has been little else going on. Every morning I have been going into work at 2:00 am to monitor each sow that may have started farrowing in the night. I stay with any sows until they are finished or until the rest of the employees arrive at 7am and take over. Piglets will stay on the sow for 20 to 28 days, afterwords the piglets are weaned off the sow and moved to a nursery room, there, they are fed pelleted feed. Once the sows are finished farrowing, sows and piglets will be monitored to ensure sow recovery and piglet survivability, the goal is to maximize the number of piglets weaned. This has been a very eventful week and the first week after farrowing is just as important to ensure piglet survivability.
After two weeks at my internship with the MSU swine farm, I’ve already been overseeing training of new employees and started to develop a better system for farrowing sows. I’ve worked for the MSU swine farm for a few years but have never had any large responsibilities such as training and writing SOPs or planning out strategies that could potentially improve the farms’ wean average. Now that I am being tasked with helping brainstorm newer ideas that could create an environment for piglets that will help their survivability within their first 21 days, I’ve felt a higher sense of satisfaction.
Timing for my internship couldn’t be better, a new article was just published on a new type of system for farrowing sows that could potentially prevent sows from laying on new born piglets. Lay ons are very common and effect all farrowing facilities. Although this new system could help prevent lay-ons it’s already very controversial and has been creating plenty of talk throughout the pork industry regarding it’s use and effectiveness. To give a basic explanation, when a sow lays on a piglet, the piglet’s squeal triggers a small electric shock through a ‘saddle’ that the sow is wearing, causing her discomfort and hopefully causing her to stand up. What makes this so controversial is the use of the electricity, since electricity has mostly been outlawed for use in the swine industry. I have attached the article if anyone is interested in more information. These first couple weeks have been smooth going, however the next month will be faster paced, and we’ll have over 400 new piglets in the next couple weeks.
href=”http://money.cnn.com/2017/05/22/technology/startups/piglet-crushing-prevention-swinetech/index.html”>New Swine Technology