A computerized feeding system known as Electronic Sow Feeding, or ESF, has been employed at Cooper Farms to improve nutrition for sows and enhance their overall care. Although this feed delivery technology is not a new concept, recent enhancements have expanded its capabilities, resulting in increased adoption in Ohio and other key pork-producing states.
Cooper Farms installed ESF in 2013 at its operation in Hicksville, which houses 2,600 sows.
“With ESF, our animals get individual nutrition with a more precise measurement of feed compared to stall feeding,” said Kevin Stuckey, sow division manager at Cooper Farms. “The sows move very well in and out of their pens to the ESF stations and seem to be very comfortable.”
Stuckey also likes the convenience of being able to monitor each ESF station from a desktop computer or hand-held mobile device.
“It’s a handy tool that enables us to track feeding data at any time to ensure all animals are receiving the proper nutrition,” he said.
Electronic sow feeding is the only method that provides true individual animal nutrition to maximize performance and sow comfort in a group housing setting, according to Jeff Schoening, technical sales manager for Automated Production Systems (AP), a leading global manufacturer of swine production equipment which provided Cooper Farms with its ESF system.
Schoening notes that ESF can be much more than just a way to feed sows.
“Electronic identification with RFID tags supports a host of other computer-controlled solutions important to the management of individual sows,” he said.
Management options include monitoring the correct timing for vaccinations and ultrasonic pregnancy exams, as well as heat detection for sows that are not yet pregnant. Animal movement within the barn can also be tracked.
In addition to the benefits that ESF offers for their sows, Stuckey says Cooper employees also appreciate the system.
“Our employees really like the look and feel of working in an open feeding barn environment, without the clutter of feed boxes,” he said.
Proper nutrition is essential to the health of gestating sows and the development of baby pigs they are carrying. With ESF, sows are identified by an RFID (radio frequency identification) tag. When the animal enters the computerized feeding station, the system recognizes her RFID tag and automatically dispenses the feed ration specific to her nutritional needs — similar to a bar code that is scanned on consumer products.
The system also enables nutritional supplements to be added, known as top dressing, to the ration. For these sows, it’s like having their own personal nutritionist. In other forms of group housing, sows are fed as a group, which does not ensure that all animals will actually eat the full required ration — or prevent them from eating too much — as necessary to maintain optimal health.