MARSHALVILLE, Ohio — Myron and Neil Ramseyer hope their new swine barn along Porr Road does two things: provide more efficient use of space and satisfy the concerns of animal rights activists.
“We built this to satisfy the animal rights people but we are still looking for efficiency,” said Myron Ramseyer, Neil’s father.
Efficiency and welfare of the animals are important factors for the Ramseyers, and their new sow gestation barn is a true testament.
Part of the barn still contains individual stalls — because that’s what works best for breeding. But the stalls are a couple inches wider than the Ramseyers’ old swine barn, and the sows only stay there for breeding.
The rest of the time, they stay in large open pens. The largest is roughly 18 feet by 80 feet.
Myron said he thinks it’s best for sows to be loose during the second half of their pregnancy.
The open pen space also allows the Ramseyers to meet Ohio’s new standards for swine care, which after 2025, requires swine to be in non-stall housing after the confirmation of pregnancy.
But the open pens don’t mean the hogs will move around as freely some might think. Even though the whole pen will be available to them, the Ramseyers said each hog will still choose its own area, and its own friends to lie beside — a helpful factor when it comes time to identifying and finding each sow.
“They kind of have their own friend,” Neil Ramseyer said.
Myron Ramseyer compared the open pen to a crowd at a large ballgame. Even though there are a lot of people in the group, they generally don’t know each other.
Sows in an open pen are similar, he said, so they “pick an area” that becomes their own.
“They’re a social animal and they like to be close together,” he said.
Short walls divide the pens into multiple sections, because the hogs prefer something to lie beside. And each hog typically lies beside the same wall and the same animal.
The barn was built by Farmer Boy Ag of Pennsylvania and is cleverly designed with many modern features.
Each of the four main pens has its own set of automatic feeders. The hogs will learn to enter on their own, and the machine will dispense feed for each, one at a time. Medications can be given when the swine are in the feeder, but Myron Ramseyer said it will be important any treatments be pain-free, because if there’s any pain involved, the hogs will remember and avoid entering the feeder again.
The floor of the barn is precast concrete, with grated slots to allow waste to fall through, into a large manure pit beneath.
It’s deep enough to hold a year’s worth of manure, which gives the operators more time to plan where it will go, and choose the day they want it removed.
Temperature will be controlled with “cool cells,” a feature that cools the air entering the wall of the barn with water, similar to a very large radiator. In the winter, the hogs’ bodies will heat the barn.
The Ramseyers have a number of features to help control odor. For one, they situated the barn well away from other homes, and it’s in a wooded area, which they said will help diffuse the smell.
“We built back in (by the trees) for a reason,” Myron said.
And the new building provides the benefit of being a tight, secure area for manure storage and odor containment.
The Ramseyers also invited neighbors over to see the barn, so they would know what it’s used for and how it will be maintained.
As time evolves, an even better system of raising swine may come along.
“Some day, science might come up with something better,” Myron Ramseyer said.
But for now, they’re confident what they have is the best, for both the swine and their business.