Date Full Report Received


Date Abstract Report Received



Primary Investigator:

A series of studies were designed to determine any impact of various autosort layouts on pig productivity and welfare. To accomplish this, Exp 1, we compared food-court, fast-lane, and water-pen layout to large conventional pens; Exp 2, based on data from Exp 1, we compared the impacts of food-court layout with large and small conventional pens; and Exp 3, based on data from Exp 1 and 2, we evaluated the impact of feeder-type and resource placement within pen.

Overall, pigs from auto-sort systems are easier to handle, load and unload compared to pigs from both large and small conventional pens. Pigs from large conventional pens are easier to handle than are pigs from small conventional pens. Maintenance behaviors, especially eat-drink sequence and aggressive encounters are influenced by auto-sort layouts, with the greatest amount of aggression occurring within the food-court layout in the finish phase when resources become limiting. Majority of aggressive encounters occur around the waterers. Feeding bouts and length of feeding bouts as well as number of pigs either eating or drinking are influenced by the auto-sort layout. Moreover, there is a learning curve for training and management of pigs in auto-sort systems, but for the pig it is a rather “quick learning curve” especially if all equipment is functioning properly. Adequate training is essential for all auto-sort layouts and sometimes pushing pigs through the system is more important for some of the layouts than it is for others. For example, in fast-lane layout, if pigs are not forced to move through the system or lack motivation to move, the consequences are apparent at sorting time – hence greater sort loss due to heavy pigs. Also, in our study, pigs that are less “motivated” to move (e.g., water-court) do not eat or drink as often, which may explain the lag in growth among pigs from water-court pens. Overall, there were positive and negative attributes associated with all of the systems used in this study; with most of the “positive” attributes being associated with food-court (e.g., better feed efficiency, least sort loss). However, there were “negative” attributes associated with food-court, such as an increase in aggressive behavior especially during late finish-phase when resources appear to be limiting. Moreover, there was a slow-down in growth as we “closed-in” on the first sort, which may be due to this increased aggression. This is most likely a – “design flaw” problem.

Based on data from 1st study, we designed a 2nd study that evaluated the impact of food-court pens in comparison to either small or large pen conventional on pig performance and welfare. Pigs from food-court pens handled better and were less stress-responsive to handling/transportation than were pigs from either small or large conventional pens. From this perspective pigs from food-court pens were better able to cope with certain stressors than were pigs from either small or large conventional pens. Among conventional pens, pigs from small pens were harder to handle/load and seemed to be more “stressed” than were pigs from large pens.

In a 3rd study, we evaluated the impact that feeder-type and resource placement had on performance and welfare. Feeder-type and placement did have an impact on various measures in this study. Aggression was reduced during the late-finishing phase among pigs in pens with access to wet-dry feeders. Feeder-type also affected handling; pigs from pens with wet-dry feeders handled better (especially removal from pens) than did pigs from pens with dry feeders. Placement of resources had an impact on the “stress response” of these pigs; pigs from pens with new feeder placement had less of a stress response than did those pigs with original feeder placement, thus these data may support our hypothesis that feeder-type and placement of resources may affect pig well-being. Performance was similar, but wet-dry feeder with new feeder placement tended to perform better than all other treatment groups. However with only one replicate and the fact that there was a “learning curve” for the manager of the farm to learn to use the new feeders, this may have impacted the results early on in this study. We hypothesized that the pigs in the pens with wet-dry feeders would have out-performed pigs with dry feeders.
Overall, there are benefits that can be gained from an auto-sort system, but management and auto-sort design must be further investigated and optimized to reap all possible benefits. Pig productivity and well-being have major influences on sustainability and profitability of any pork-production operation. This research project provides producer with scientific data that supports the concept that auto-sort systems can have an impact on the performance and well-being of wean-to-finish pigs. The “biggest” benefit as of right now is that even in a non-optimized auto-sort system pigs are easier to handle/load and unload and the total amount of time it takes to move and load pigs is significantly reduced when pigs are kept in an auto-sort system. The food-court layout does appear to be the most viable layout, but the best management scheme, the best layout, and the best “physical components” that make up the system need to be further identified. Furthermore, other layouts can be optimized as well but the various components of the system need to be evaluated and identified. It is obvious from these data that layout, feeder-type, resource placement, and management are extremely important factors that must be considered to gain the most benefits from this technology. Moreover, it is apparent that an optimized and well-managed auto-sort system can improve pig well-being. johnso17@illinois.edu