Pigs on the move: autonomous pigsties

Does keeping pigs in mobile, self-contained animal facilities look futuristic to you? Not according to a recent Canadian initiative.

Canadian farmer and technologist Daniel Badiou from Ukko Robotics designed an outdoor mobile unit for pig production. He and his partner Katrina Jean-Laflamme had already developed a “robotic barn” to house and protect pasture-raised chickens and believed that this should work for pigs as well.

The company’s Rova barn is a mobile and autonomous pet store. It protects animals from the elements, provides them with additional water and food, and gradually moves through a field, exposing animals to new grass daily. Ventilation can be controlled to ensure the animals are as comfortable as possible in the prevailing weather conditions.

Take a peek inside one of the mobile pigsties.  - Photo: Ukko Robotics

Take a peek inside one of the mobile pigsties. – Photo: Ukko Robotics

After more than 2 years of testing on their home farm in Manitoba, the team concluded that this allows small farms to raise pigs on grass. The pigs were observed not to fight as much and the tail bites were gone, Badiou said in a press release.

Mobile pigsty of different sizes

The mobile barn is available in different sizes. The largest will house around 50 pigs, depending on the desired stocking density. Units require a minimum of 7 acres (2.8 ha) of pasture to operate. Depending on the size of the unit, each can hold 5-7 days of food and water. Food and water deliveries can be made with an all-terrain vehicle pulling a small trailer.

Stables can be programmed to move at different speeds depending on stocking density, terrain and pasture / grass condition. Each day, units typically move between 6 and 30 feet (1.8 m to 9.1 m). When a unit reaches the end of a field, the manager uses a remote control to put the unit in manual mode and turn it around. Operation is fully automated. Units recognize when they have reached the end of a field and automatically turn and walk to a new section of the field.

The exterior of a pig mobile home looks a lot like regular mobile homes.  - Photo: Ukko Robotics

The exterior of a pig mobile home looks a lot like that of regular mobile homes. – Photo: Ukko Robotics

The barns have solar charging with sufficient battery capacity to operate up to 5 days without sunlight. The units are designed to operate even during the harsh northern winters experienced in places like Manitoba.

Well-being and sustainability issues

By moving animals evenly over sections of pasture, the system is said to reduce overgrazing and over-fertilization. This, according to the press release, contributes to soil health and allows farmers to adopt regenerative farming practices with reduced labor. It also allows farmers to experiment with different grasses and cover crops to determine the best nutrition for pigs.

Each unit is equipped with sensors to monitor the consumption and watering activity of the animals.

In the press release, Badiou called the design “a great promotional tool for farms on the outskirts of large urban areas that serve customers interested in animal welfare and sustainable agriculture.”

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