The Culasso brothers in the province of Cuneo, Italy, decided to expand from 300 to 500 sows, which meant some significant changes – especially concerning animal welfare.
The brothers have installed the Welsafe farrowing pens from ACO Funki in the farrowing rooms. The farrowing pens have a special design to give the sow maximum well-being – the sow can move, turn around and interact with her piglets. Besides, the focus is on the piglets' safety, especially in the first days of their life. Each Freedom Farrowing pen at this farm has a size of 6 square meters.
The sow is free to move around the pen, can lie down and stretch, and generally has much better conditions compared to a traditional farrowing pen. When the piglets are born, they will be safe right after birth while the sow is still fixated. After this, they have plenty of space to move around. If you need to inspect the sow, gathering all the piglets in the nest is possible. There is an area between the farrowing crate and the piglet nest so that you do not need to enter the area with the sow.
The piglet corner ensures a double climate, where the room temperature is 18-22°C for the sow and under the piglet cover a temperature in the range of 33 to 27°C, according to the age of the piglets. This makes the farrowing house more energy efficient.
The collaboration between the Culasso brothers and ACO Funki also extends to the gestation area. Here, they have created new spaces for sows to move comfortably. Each stall is designed to let one sow eat without being bothered by others. When a sow enters the Free Access box, a spring closes the rear gate and opens again when the sow pushes it with her rear to leave.
This system works smoothly, and the Culasso brothers highlight that animals adapt quickly. They have also recently built a weaning section with a similar setup. In each weaning room, there are 16 areas for piglets. These areas can hold 25 to 30 piglets each, with eight on each side.
One of these areas is for piglets that have not had their tails docked. These piglets act as a "focus" group to notice if anything stressing them might lead to cannibalism. Then they continue growing to become finisher pigs.
When the number of piglets per litter increases, it is difficult - if not impossible - for the single sow to have enough milk for large litters as the days after farrowing progress. The result is high competitiveness among piglets, unequal growth and average weaning weight, and increased mortality.
Therefore, the Culasso brothers have chosen a continuous automatic milk distribution system for piglets in each farrowing pen called Baby Care. With the Baby Care Milk System - thanks to its 24-hour operation with milk recirculated continuously at a temperature of 20°C - the piglets have an additional "udder," always ready to give milk.
Just a slight push on the cup lever by the piglet, and it fills with milk ready for consumption. Everything (milk concentrations, quantities dispensed, dispensing pressure, possible closure of a single cup or line, washing system) is automatically controlled with a touch screen panel with a user-friendly interface.
The Culasso brothers confirm the experience of others who have introduced this system in the sow: piglets heavier at weaning (about 1-2 kg), more homogeneous, and more vital. Here the number of piglets has also risen to equalize the herds, from 13 to 14 piglets.
Of course, the cups do not dispense milk for the entire four weeks of the piglets' stay in the farrowing crate: generally, during the last week, the supply is closed to encourage the piglets to consume the solid feed. The quality of the fully automatic cleaning system should also be underlined, with the possibility of using acid and basic washing, for maximum hygienic safety.
When people producing farming equipment have a clear vision, and a whole family unites to create better animal conditions, things usually turn out well. And if one also has a good strategy and equipment, things become even better. Here, the Danish genetics the brothers use are quite effective. On average, they wean about 32 piglets per sow, and sometimes even 33. This number went up when they added more young sows to the group.
Enhanced results emerge when combined with cutting-edge structures and equipment. To name a few, the piglets' weight is approx. 8-9 kg at weaning after four weeks.
Of course, there are challenges ahead, like costs for materials and energy, which affect many companies. Also, there's some worry about the best genetics to use. But all these concerns are outside the brothers' influence. Inside the farm, the Culassos have already thought of almost every way to improve things.