Everything an ESF sow needs to know she learned in gilt training

Wisconsin State Farmer

Pipestone, Minn. — Have you been thinking about using electronic sow feeding (ESF) in group gestation pens? Before you get too far along in planning, remember to put “gilt training” at the top of your priority list.

“Thoroughly trained gilts develop into sows that are comfortable and productive in group gestation pens with ESF,” says Brad Carson, sales manager for Nedap U.S. “A good training plan includes putting the right employees in place and creating an optimal structure and timeframe for training.”

The Laut family has made gilt training a priority at Jayce Mountain Pork, a 3,500-sow farrow to wean operation that has large-group gestation pens with ESF in southeast Missouri.
“Training gilts is a simple process if done properly, but it takes discipline,” says Walter Laut, who owns and operates Jayce Mountain Pork with his brothers, Don and Doug. “We recommend any producer who wants to transition to group housing with ESF develop a plan that works for them and follow through with it.”

The Jayce Mountain Pork gestation barn has pens with about 275 sows divided by parity. Each pen has six Nedap Electronic Sow Feeders. To prepare them to succeed in group pens, the gilts are trained in two specially designed pens within the gestation barn. For all gilts, the first couple of weeks in the barn are key to their future success.

Here’s what happens in the first two weeks:

Week 1: Pre-training

The pre-training pen is divided in half with ad lib feeders on one side and a resting area on the other. A gate just like the ones on the backs of the electronic sow feeders is built into the pen divider.

On their first day in the facility, gilts are left alone to acclimate. Starting on Day 2, gilts learn how to use the gate to cross from the resting area to the side of the pen with the ad lib feeder. At Jayce Mountain Pork, one person will spend a five- to six-hour shift moving the group through the training gates. This job isn’t necessarily difficult, but it is crucial and requires employees with the right skillset.

“The ideal gilt trainer is someone who can keep calm and focus on the gilts’ behavior,” Carson says. “Patience in this position is a necessity.”

The work shift should be structured so the trainer can get the work done without having to rush or get frustrated.

“Under no circumstances do you want this to be a negative experience for the employee or animal,” Laut says.

Week 2: Training

Next, the gilts move into the training pens with ESF feeders. In this phase, the gilts learn to position themselves in the feeders and use their RFID ear tags to dispense feed.

Consistency is crucial to successful gilt training.

“The person doing this job has to be very disciplined and stick to the plan you’ve put in place,” Laut says. “You’re going to teach the animal one thing every day. As long as you do that and stick to the plan, the plan works well.”

Have a backup plan

Some swine management experts suggest about 10 percent of gilts are untrainable. At Jayce Mountain Pork, the team has found less than 1 percent of their gilts can’t learn to manage the ESF system. The Lauts chalk up much of that success to their employees’ dedication to the training plan.

Walter Laut says the gilts that don’t learn to manage the feeders seem to be “noncompetitive” rather than “untrainable.”

“They just don’t have that motivation to make the walk through the large pens to the feeders,” Laut says. “They don’t want to do that lap.”

Strong foundation

After more than a year in operation, the Lauts are pleased with the results they are getting in their group gestation pens. The sows are calm and easy to handle, and the ESF system allows them to feed each sow individually within the group.

“Decide up front what you want to accomplish in the training pens and make a plan to do it,” Laut says. “Then, no matter what, stick to that plan.”
For more information on swine housing and management or to learn more about Nedap technologies, visit or contact Brad Carson at 712-435-7546 or

 Nedap is a global leader in livestock equipment and management systems. With a goal of creating technology that matters, Nedap has developed, manufactured and sold intelligent technological solutions for swine management for more than 35 years. Nedap is focused on both herd productivity and performance worldwide, offering smart, sustainable solutions in all parts of the production cycle for a profitable, individual approach to managing swine in large groups.

Gilts rest in their training pen at Jayce Mountain Pork. Training gilts is a key to successful use of electronic sow feeding in group gestation pens.
In training, gilts learn to use their RFID tags to operate the electronic feeders.
Brad Carson, sales manager for Nedap U.S.