Design Matters: Farm Layout Plays an Important Role in Pig Health

What are the greatest factors that influence pig health? Most will say the health of the sow farm, pig density and area disease pressure. While these are all true, a common item gets overlooked: the overall design of the operation. This topic can even be broken down into the macro and micro features of the operation or the barn. The big picture of the operation such as pig flow and site design (macro level) are important for disease spread between pigs you own and the ability to control or eliminate disease in future groups. The micro level is focused on the individual barn design and environment. Both viewpoints are important in preventing and controlling disease, and therefore, limiting the need for antibiotics. Consumers have become more critical of antibiotic use and resistance in livestock production throughout the years; therefore, ensuring your operation is designed to prevent and/or mitigate disease will allow you to minimize the antibiotic use, which respects the consumers desire and lowers your direct cost in the pig.

Big Picture Design:

How your operation is designed matters. This includes your pig source and where/how the pigs are placed. Fundamental goals to prevent and/or minimize disease challenges include:


  1. All In/All Out by Site
    • Important to stop disease between groups or to prevent a snowball effect of disease to other pigs on the site
    • Allows success for cleaning up disease on a site if disease is introduced
  2. Single Source
    • All pigs on the site carry the same bugs/diseases
    • Not spreading disease present in one source to another source that is naïve
  3. Single Age Groups
    • Prevents the spread of disease from older pigs to younger pigs
  4. Minimizing Age Spread Within Groups
    • Limits the compounding effect of disease from older pigs to youngest pigs
    • Generally easier to start pigs
    • Impact of long fill times can equal $0.25+/pig for each added day of fill time due to mortality and production drag
  5. Proximity to Other Pigs
    • Close distance to other pigs increases chance of spread between groups
  6. Consistent, Healthy Pig Source
    • Healthy pigs perform better than sick pigs
    • Consistent source allows you to know the health status and be familiar with what to expect
  7. Biosecurity
    • Need to have in place to prevent disease spread to other groups
    • Needs to be thorough, but practical
    • Fundamentals such as clean/dirty lines and shower in/shower out work

This list includes ideas to strive for. While they may not all work for your specific operation today, they give a guide for how to improve your operation for the future.

Most operations I see today were built over time, meaning that barns built 20 years ago were designed for the size of the operation 20 years ago. Many operations have also expanded over the years, so barns built 20 years ago do not fit the size of today’s pig flow. This has caused the pig flow to accommodate old barn size with new barn size, potential different sources, multiple age groups, and others. This does not fit some of the principles listed above. Although the current operation has worked, think outside of the box to continue to find ways to improve your operation. Big decisions like changing the flow of your barns or expanding your pig source/sow farm may sound unrealistic, but try to view it as structuring your operation for the future. Current industry trends such as larger sow farms, all in/all out and further antibiotic stewardship are not likely to go away. The economics support these trends. Structure your pig operation to allow further improvement and allow you to be relevant in the future so in the next 20 years you may not think, “I wish I would have done that differently 20 years ago.”

Pig-Level Design

Everyone could debate at length about designing the perfect barn. While opinions will vary greatly, the goal of raising pigs healthy and efficiently are the same. Giving pigs the best environment possible allows them to perform the best, therefore, we need to always strive for this. Keeping up on barn maintenance, making sure the ventilation is set right, and making sure fans and waters are cleaned and working properly are just a few items to make the environment the best possible. When attention is given to the details and environmental stress is minimized to the pig, it may prevent a disease outbreak and the need to use medication.


There are multiple factors that affect pig health, with the farm design playing an important role to both the health of the pig and the health of the operation. As the industry strives to make progress on improving health and reducing antibiotic use do not forget to take a step back and critically evaluate your operation to find areas for improvement. Consult with your veterinarian on areas to improve on your health, reduce the need to use antibiotics and improve your bottom line.


By: Dr. Evan Koep

Veterinarian, Pipestone Veterinary Services