News - August 13, 2015

New housing for pigs in mobile units

Wageningen UR has developed a new kind of housing for pigs, dubbed ‘Camping at the neighbour’s’. It consists of shipping containers with outdoor access, which could be placed on a piece of disused land in a city or on a country estate. One farmer has already expressed interest.

The ‘Camping at the neighbour’s’ concept was developed in a design studio in collaboration with pig farmers, veterinarians, technicians and researchers. From within Wageningen UR, there were contributions by researchers at Livestock Research, Alterra and CVI. The design means the pig farmer houses about 300 sows and piglets in a central barn. The units, the size of a shipping container, have an outdoor pen linked to sleeping and farrowing units. The piglets grow up in these containers, which have good climate control technology and sunlight. After about four weeks the piglets are lured into a weaning unit, and this mobile ‘pen’ can then be loaded onto a truck and moved to another location.

The design makes it possible to raise 3000 pigs in groups of 200 in mobile units. Each group, housed in seven linked containers, can be moved to any suitable location. Ten pairs of pigs take it in turns to go outside to a patch of ground of at least 200 square metres. When the pigs are ready for slaughter they are transported to the abattoir in their container. Once it has been cleaned, a new batch of pigs can be housed in it.

Project leader Bram Bos of Livestock Research involved pig farmer Erik Stegink in developing the design. Stegink keeps 50 pigs out of doors on his farm, Piggy’s Palace. He has even installed a mud pool and a slide for his pigs. Stegink is interested in this concept because he is keen to be more in tune with meat consumers. It also enables him to expand his farm without building any more barns, meeting the wishes of local residents. There is already a certain amount of pig farming where the animals are kept outside at changing locations, says the project leader. Ex-Alterra worker Willem Rienks, for example, founded Buitengewone Varkens and keeps unusual breeds of pigs out of doors at several locations.

The technical and economic feasibility of the concept has not yet been established, says Bos. ‘That is why we do this kind of innovation research. We want to try out this concept with limited resources first, for example in a consortium with a pig farmer, a container company and a climate technology company.’ Bos was previously involved developing the innovative Rondeel barn for layer hens, the Kwatrijn barn for cows and the Windstreek barn for poultry. ‘It never works out exactly the way you envisaged it beforehand: that is where innovation comes in. And initially you shouldn’t look at the cost price, because if you do you’ll end up with the conventional barn.’ Bos does not yet know, either, whether municipal councils will grant licenses for these kinds of mobile pig pens. ‘Sometimes we have to clear up those kinds of bureaucratic obstacles in follow-up projects.’

Illustration: Livestock Research

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MORE INNOVATIVE BARNS In recent years Livestock Research has led a series of interactive design projects under the auspices of ‘Design for System Innovations’. The best-known design is the welfare- and environment-friendly Rondeel barn for layer hens. This design came out of Livestock Research’s 2004 poultry-keeping project ‘Houden van Hennen’. Three Dutch poultry farmers have now built a Rondeel barn and the eggs are marketed under this brand name. Meanwhile, a mini-Rondeel with 300 chickens has been started at the RAI in Amsterdam.

At the end of May, State Secretary Dijksma opened the Kwatrijn barn at Sjaak Sprangers’ dairy farm in Kaatsheuvel. This came out of the design project Kracht voor Koeien in 2009. In Kwatrijn separation of manure in the barn reduces ammonia emissions and improves the use of minerals, while giving the cows more space. The Windstreek broiler chicken barn is currently under construction in Raalte. This chicken barn came out of the Pluimvee met Smaak project in 2011. This open barn for broilers makes use of natural ventilation. ‘We ended up with a barn with outdoor access,’ explains Bos. The young chicks keep each other warm under the innovative breeding hood, and in spite of its openness this barn produces little ammonia or fine particles. It also fits into the landscape well. It is almost always possible to find one or more poultry keepers who are willing to invest in an innovative barn design. What do these pioneers have in common? Bos: ‘They have a natural urge to innovate. They look ahead, assess social trends and have the courage to take the plunge and build a new barn. A barn has to last 20 to 30 years.'