Suncrest Colony transition to sow group housing a real success [scroll down for audio]

Harry Siemens – Re-sow pen transition – “We absolutely love it. People may think it is more leg work, it’s just different work … and you get to know your sows a lot more. You’ve got to really walk the pen for almost not quite twice a day, but we do it fairly regularly,” said Bob Kleinsasser, hog boss at Suncrest Colony near Steinbach, MB.

The first new hog barn in the last seven years held an Open House on March 4, 2016, at the Suncrest Colony just off the intersection of highways 59 and 52 near Steinbach, MB.

Colony Hog Boss Bob Kleinsasser described it as an 800 sow farrow to 80 pounds using open group housing with 125 sows per group at 28 square feet per sow.

In a recent interview and tour of the new facility among hundreds of sows Kleinsasser said the new barn houses 850 sows and the old barn 500 sows.

“Well, we’re not quite finishing everything out of what we call the new barn, the east side, the old barn the west side,” he said. “Every four weeks we wean around 900 pigs out of the west side and we need about 1300 to fill up the truck, so we take them out of the east side.”  

In essence, Kleinsasser said what they don’t sell as Isoweans mostly to Iowa, they finish out in their finishing barn marketing to Maple Leaf in Brandon, MB.

When the Suncrest Colony hog boss started 15 years ago, they shipped finished hogs at least 20 kg lighter than what they ship today.

“We’re shooting for a target weight of about 104 kg which is about 130 to 132 kg, or 285 to 290 pounds live weight,” he said. “Well, I guess they’ve got the line going anyway, it doesn’t cost them a penny more and they’ve got an extra 20 kg’s of pork times 70,000 a week, that’s a lot of extra of pork. Oh yeah, and they pay really well for those heavy pigs.”

When asked about how the transition to group housing is working?

“We absolutely love it. People may think it is more leg work, it’s just different work … and you get to know your sows a lot more. You’ve got to really walk the pen for almost not quite twice a day, but we do it fairly regularly,” said Kleinsasser. “Well, we’ve got six pens and there are about 125 sows in each pen. There are two feet of electronic sow feeders. They’ve got an ear tag which reads when she walks into the feeder. She gets between one and a half and three kg’s of feed depending on her condition and it’s all in that tag. It goes to a data base and we run it out of our main office and the computer stations.”  

Sizing the pigs is very important, otherwise, if you have a gilt in with a five, six hundred pound sow and things might get out of hand.

“So we have gilts, younger bred animals get a designated pen and then as we go we sort them. The bigger animals go up to different pens and the mediums to other ones, just to make sure that when they do fight they’re the same size and they don’t get butchered.   There’s very little fighting. I’m really amazed at that,” he said.

Kleinsasser said training the selected gilts is very important.

“When they’re about 250 pounds we start training them before we even breed them. We breed them around 280 to 300 pounds. It takes about ten days. Some of them we train right away, but the average is ten days. You’ve got to keep them going to that feeder and kind of show them so they’re not scared when they come to a door and it opens up,” he said. “So yes, there’s training and that’s probably the biggest amount of work.”

There are two people that do the training but most of Kleinsasser does himself because it is vital and they train every day because they replace an animal every day.

“Every week we’ve got new animals in the barn … Because you’ve got to get the old ones out and then you’ve got to get new ones in,” he said.

The cull rate is about 40 per cent annually, the most amount of animals are priority one. [The number of litters a sow has carried (including current pregnancy), e.g. a second parity sow is in the pig with or suckling her second litter.] Then he goes down priority two, three, four, five, six, seven. Priority eight is pretty much nothing.

“You always keep turning. You always want the younger … the priority two’s, three’s and four’s are your best animals.  They get pretty exhausted after priority six.  I mean, we’re pushing … if you have 14, 15 born alive … those girls are tired,” he said.

The average litter size in the Suncrest Colony sow operation born alive around 14 right now, two and a half times a year weaning 12, 12 four … and that comes to about 30 to 31 pigs per sow per year.

When Kleinsasser started as hog boss 15 years ago, his sows averaged about 24 piglets per year meaning a lot of extra money for the same sow.