WHJ Article - Drumloche Research Barn: A solution for commercial-scale research projects
By Gowans Feed Consulting


A wealth of new knowledge for pork producers has been generated through research in various disciplines such as swine nutrition, management, genetics, and animal health. However, some of this knowledge has been generated under experimental conditions which are most often very different from practical conditions present in commercial grow-finish barns. Therefore, one of the big challenges facing the research community is to demonstrate that new findings produced under ideal experimental conditions can be replicated under typical commercial conditions.

Gowans Feed Consulting, a leading Canadian pig and poultry consulting company, was involved in the design of the Drumloche commercial-scale research barn that is currently operating near Irma, Alberta. Since its construction in 2005, a wide array of applied research projects have been conducted at the barn. Some of the projects have focused on evaluating alternative feedstuffs for swine, determining nutrient requirements for pigs, energy response curves, feed additive and vaccine evaluations, and terminal sire line trials. The objective of all trials is to reduce production costs and increase pork producers’ profitability.

Over the past several years, numerous trials of applied interest have been conducted in collaboration with research partners such as the University of Alberta, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Prairie Swine Center, Sunhaven Farms, various genetics companies, and feed additive suppliers.  

The commercial-scale grow-finish facility
The Drumloche Research Barn was constructed in 2005 by John Burden and family, general partner and contract grower in the Sunhaven Farms system. The facility is located near Irma, AB, about one and a half hours east of Edmonton, and about one hour west of the Saskatchewan border. The barn is part of an isolated site which includes two other grow-finish barns. It is situated upwind from the other barns and has  a separate driveway.

The barn consists of 2 rooms, each with 52 pens (20.17 × 7.83 ft, total space or 158 ft2). Temperature and ventilation in each room are automatically-controlled by one environmental controller using negative pressure ventilation. Each room can house up to 1050 grower-finisher pigs in 50 pens (21 pigs/pen), with 2 remaining pens used for treated or injured pigs. The flooring is fully-slatted, pre-cast concrete slats over 4 ft. deep slurry pits. Each pen is equipped with a nose to nose wet/dry (Crystal Springs™) stainless steel feeder (2 feeding spaces and one water nipple) and a supplementary water bowl located on each pen partition. The feeder occupies a space of 2.4 ft2, leaving an available floor space of 155.6 ft2. Each room is equipped with a robotic feed delivery system (Feed Logic, Feed Logic Co., Willmar, MN, USA) that automatically delivers, weights, and records the feed dispensed into each feeder. This system also has the capability to manage multiple diets, blend feeds, and dispense supplements or additives to specific pens with no cross contamination. A centrally located pen scale (2.44 m × 6.10 m), 2 individual pig scales, an office and shower facilities complete the facilities.

Gowans Feed Consulting manages the operation of the research barn trials. The highly dedicated research team includes John Burden, Neil Burden and Tanya Hollinger who are responsible all barn management activities, and Dr. Jose Landero and Dr. Malachy Young who are responsible for supervision  protocol development, data collection, analysis of results and preparation of reports.

Pigs (FAST sow line crossed to PIC380 boar line) are obtained from the same commercial farm (Lewisville Pork Farm; Irma, AB, Canada) for each trial. They enter the barn at 25-30 kg of body weight and remain on feed until an average market weight of 125-130 kg. Conventional daily barn management during the grower-finisher period includes daily recording of treated, sick or dead pigs, daily tracking of feed remaining in bins and feeders and verification of functioning of the feed delivery unit. The amount of feed delivered by the robotic system is recorded daily and the feed remaining at the end of each feeding phase is measured manually to calculate average daily feed intake. Pigs are usually weighed at the end of each feeding phase to calculate average daily gain for each phase and for the overall period. When pigs are approaching market weight, each pen is weighed every week. Carcass data (carcass weight, dressing percentage, back fat depth, loin depth and grading index) is collected from every pig sent to slaughter. Blood or fecal samples can be also collected for trials that require this information. Depending of the research project, other parameters such as feed cost per kg of gain and per pig, income over feed cost per pig, and carcass revenue per square foot can also be calculated to estimate producers’ profitability. 

Ongoing research projects
Currently, two research projects are being conducted to answer key questions for pork producers. In the first room, we are conducting a trial using 3, 4 and 5 different feeding phases during the grower-finisher period. Theoretically, as the number of feeding phases increases, the amount of time when pigs are being fed diets that over supply or under supply their requirements is minimized. However, if fewer feeding phases are used, pigs appear to have the ability to compensate for nutrient deficiencies by utilizing feed more efficiently in subsequent phases. From a practical perspective 3 to 5 phases is usually optimal but it is important to determine if 3, 4 or 5 feeding phases results in optimum profitability. The second trial being conducted is an evaluation of the effects of feeding a novel phytase product on feed costs, phosphorus reduction in manure, growth performance and carcass quality of grow-finish pigs. This product has claimed to have a better efficacy than other phytase enzymes, releasing a greater portion of the bound plant phosphorus, as well as calcium and energy, resulting in the potential to use less supplemental monocalcium phosphate and fat in the diet. 

Selected published research 
Feed costs are the single largest variable cost in pork production (65-75%) and most (70-75%) of these costs are incurred by the growing-finishing pig. Therefore, research trials focused on lowering production costs and increasing performance during the grower-finisher period will have a very significant impact on overall profitability. This in turn will increase the competitive advantage of Western Canadian pork producers. Research results generated from this facility have been published in the Journal of Animal Science, the Canadian Journal of Animal Science, and the Journal of Swine Health and Production, among others. In this same issue of the Western Hog Journal, we are also sharing important results of a trial conducted in collaboration with the Prairie Swine Centre which highlight the effects of space allowance and water availability on pig performance and pork producer profitability.

For more information please contact Malachy Young at malachyy@gowansfeedconsulting.ca or Jose Landero at jose@gowansfeedconsulting.ca