Feeders and troughs: as performance levels progressively climbed, needs became focused on controlling feed distribution to make savings on this cost input. As trough materials became increasingly resistant to acid corrosion, liquid feeders progressively became the norm. Polyester concrete or stainless steel ousted cement concrete as the material of choice. Feeders introduced for dry-feed diets followed a similar pattern of progression. They could also be equipped with efficient stainless-steel controller systems that would radically eliminate wastage.
Gestation crates: for a long period of time, the industry was plagued by piglet death losses to crushing. Various technical solutions were tested involving air blowers and raisable under-sow flooring. The results were either too inconclusive or too expensive to be viably implementable. In the 1990s, the gestation crate came through as the most cost-efficient solution. The farrowing crate cage design forces the sow down onto her legs and feet before lying down, thus giving piglets time to evacuate the lay-down zone. Using a split-level system differentiating the sow lying-down zone, faecal waste collection zone, and piglet movement space also helped improve weaner survival rates.
Watering and water purification: watering was long thought to have no impact on livestock performances, but numerous studies demonstrated that managing and controlling watering brought significant advantages.
The automatic watering systems currently in use offer all the necessary guarantees that water use is optimized with zero wastage and — in compliance with European directives on livestock welfare — zero restrictions for the pigs. Wall-mounted or swing drinkers, although less expensive, were abandoned as they generated up to 70% water wastage and piglets took longer to learn how to use them. Water quality had also initially been ignored as an important factor. However, it quickly became clear that the physical and bacteriological water quality had repercussions on pig health and ultimately on production performances. As a rule, pig farms have adopted (chlorination-based) water purification systems to handle bacteriological quality and sometimes even to correct physical-chemical parameters such as water pH or water content of iron or other elements.
Heating and cooling: heating newborn piglets was swiftly adopted as core practice, especially where there was no litter around. Heating was later extended into post-weaning, as it proved undeniably cost-effective once factors ranging from feed conversion efficiency to piglet mortality and medical costs had been integrated. The trend today is that heating is even being incorporated into the grower phase via heat recovery systems. Here again, the advantages operate on both fronts: lower feed input and higher pig health standards. For sows, some farms are investigating the possibility of installing heat exchangers as a lower-cost heating solution. While this application is not yet widespread, cooling systems for breeding stock are becoming standard practice, as sow stalls are increasingly being fitted with either regular or spray cooling systems. The two techniques are equally as efficient, and the option selected will depend on air input type. Introducing these cooling measures has benefits on both late-gestation sow mortality and on fertility by heavily reducing the rate of return to heat triggered by hot-season conditions.