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Author(s): Harold Gonyou and Fiona Lang
Publication Date: January 11, 2013
Reference: Science of Ethology
Country: Canada


Science of Ethology,   Volume 1, Issue 4

The electronic sow feeding system represents the ultimate in the use of technical control to manage sows.  The use of electronics to control all aspects of the system is a major shift in the management of sows, somewhat akin to the use of robotic milkers for dairy cows.  It requires a significant shift in our approach to managing animals and the daily routine of the barn.

How the System Works

An ESF system generally provides a single (or very few) feeding station(s) for a large group of sows (typically 40-60 sows/station).  The sows must eat sequentially, one after the other, from the same station.  Once a sow enters the station the entrance gate locks behind her and she is identified by means of a transponder in her ear tag.  The computer controlled feeder allots her a specific amount of feed, dropped into the feed bowl over a limited period of time.  During the feed drop, and for several minutes afterward, the entrance gate remains locked so that other sows may not enter.  The sow may leave at any time, ending the dispensing of feed and unlocking the entrance for the next sow.  The computer records the amount of feed that has been dispensed to each sow (not the amount actually eaten), and allocates any undispensed allotment to a subsequent entrance by the same sow that same day, or to her next day’s feed.  The system typically cycles on a daily basis, with a new allotment of feed being made available to each sow every 24 hours.  As the stockperson will not be present while each sow eats, the system must provide feedback on any sows that fail to eat their allotment each day.  This feedback is in the form of an ‘attention’ list available to the stockperson at the end of each 24-hr cycle, and is used to identify animals that may need additional care.

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