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  • Robert Drew

Durable, Reliable, Simple and Adaptable – A winning combination with Maximus Free Access ESF

Updated: Sep 10

When we buy a new vehicle, we never see anything for sale that’s rusty! In fact, it’s not until a few years later, when holes appear and the paint flakes off, that we shake our head and mutter to ourselves, “That was a mistake!”


As producers invest more in group housing solutions, some of the ESF equipment that has been out on farms for 5 or more years, is beginning to tell a similar story. The ammonia, feces, and acidic environment of most North American pig farms, is vastly different to that of our Europeans friends, which is where the majority of the ESF feeding equipment originated from.


In the past few years, I have seen with my own eyes, doors, side panels, feed bowls and many other components of feeding stations that have rusted, stopped working or simply fell apart, most only 5-7 years after installation. Add to this the increased technology used, such as separation, air compressors, sensors, and incorporated weigh scales, the list of ‘things that can go wrong’, continues to grow!


A pig farm can be a hostile environment for equipment, especially when both pigs and people touch it daily! If a feed station lasted the lifetime of a barn, I calculated that this would represent over a million ‘touches’, and that’s at 15 sows per feeder! That being a FACT, it had better be built to last! ESF stations do all have one thing in common: they feed pigs. However, they are certainly NOT all built the same!


Over the last 30+ years of working around many ESF systems, it is my belief that it has become way too easy for producers to be drawn to the ‘bling’, also known as, “all the bells and whistles.” It all looks shiny when it’s new, right? You must decide what works for you AND your people. Just because your salesman took you to an ESF farm doing 32 p/s/y, I can guarantee it doesn’t mean you’ll get the same results, with the same equipment! Not everyone can drive a Formula 1 race car when you put them behind the wheel, let alone maintain it! Now that is a FACT!


This newsletter is intended to help guide producers towards the ‘not so obvious’ during the decision-making process when buying an ESF. It is imperative that you invest in a system that will hold up to the test of time. Today, technology is increasingly playing a big part in Agriculture. It is important that we balance between technology and the manufacturing of equipment in such a way that the ESF station is simple, reliable, and durable to withstand the environment of the pig farm, yet adaptable to the ever-changing, data driven, world in which we run our daily operations!


This newsletter will highlight a few features of the Maximus Free Access ESF that we believe will help make ‘the difference’ and not just meet, but exceed, your expectations!



1. Plastic


I am old enough to remember that there was a day that, when you heard the word ‘plastic’, you immediately would think something was cheap and wouldn’t last. How times have changed! With that said, you do still need to be careful because, as with most things, there are a wide range of products and longevity will be an issue if you chose the wrong one! Pigs tend to find a way to put holes in most things!


Maximus uses vented green plastic panels in the main body of the ESF station. This gives the sow a safe environment to feed in, unlike some designs where the sow can be interfered with by more dominant sows waiting to feed. These panels are made by Paneltim®, which has now been recognized by many as

one of the most durable and robust plastic products used in livestock facilities around the world.


We also offer this product as an option for the sleeping area and fence line of the group pens. It gives the sows great protection when resting. The panels are antibacterial coated and sealed. This makes them easy to clean, therefore increasing the hygiene in the barn AND allowing plenty of ventilation with the slots in the panels.






Our equipment manufacturing also integrates the most widely used plastic in the Agricultural sector. Both HDPE (High density Polyethylene) and PP (Polypropylene) use semi-crystalline substances which are more resistant against H2O intake, as well as having a high strength-to-density ratio. They are also commonly used in applications such as corrosion-resistant piping and chemical containers.



2. Steel


The metal frame used on the feeder is a high quality, hot dipped galvanized. This process has strict quality control to ensure an even coating, at the desire thickness and will create a chemical reaction between the steel and zinc and helps to ensure a strong layer of protection.


The front of the feeder is made from stainless steel. Double welding is done since this area gets most of the sow contacts over the years.




Many of the posts we manufacture for fence lines are made with black steel. This steel gets its name due to the presence of the dark-colored iron oxide coating on the surface of the steel. A high-quality paint is then used on the posts for added protection and longevity.



3. Electronics


Always ask this question: “What is your warranty on electronics?” Maximus offers a 5-year warranty because they are confident they have the best quality electronics in the industry. They do tests on all electronics to an extremely high voltage, prior to shipping. This makes it much easier to relax at night during a severe thunderstorm. Electronics do a lot of heavy-duty work in most pig farms, so it is important that they can withstand harsh environments.

Some manufacturers of ESF equipment have their electronics inside the feeding equipment. This will mean that their certification rating (IP66) will be for the complete unit where the electronics are stored. This is NOT necessarily better!


Maximus separates the feed bottle from the electronics. The module, which contains the easy to change plug-and-play card, has the NEMA 4X and IP66 certification. The communication wires are gold-plated. This makes them highly resistant to corrosion and other possible damage due to the environment. With this in mind, we are not afraid of hardwired systems. My own experience has been that, in many cases, hardwiring has been more reliable than wireless and the frustrations of ‘poor service and connections’, often found inside a pig farm, are taken off the table!




Because the electronic and mechanical parts are separated, Maximus can also service or replace parts easily, and at a lower cost than replacing an entire unit. One easy quarter turn of the new 3P feed bottle and any issue with cornstalks, etc., is quickly remedied! NO TOOLS NEEDED.

The bottle also uses an ‘O’ ring seal to help protect against moisture.




4. Simple in design

The Maximus Free Access ESF is simple and designed with both the pig and people in mind. The less moving parts, the lower the maintenance, the happier your people (and your wallet) will be!



The fully mechanical design reduces the need for sensors, air compressors and additional wiring. The animal’s welfare was also considered by using simple, yet sturdy, saloon doors rather than the pivoting ‘up and over door’ that was used on some of the early European ESF’s in the 1980s (Hunday model). Having worked with these, the door would often hit the sows in the neck and on the back, as sows waiting to enter often figured out ways to get this design of door open, in their effort to get feed.



5. Age is not everything!

I have been around many ESF feeding systems. It is clear to me that just because a Company has been around for 2 or 3 decades it does not make it better! They often get stuck in a time warp, both on design and general market mentality. When a salesperson uses the, “They don’t have the manufacturing history” line, during a sales pitch, I would suggest it may be a red flag and you need to take an even closer look!



A Company where everyone has production experience, understands what happens “on the slats” every day, and has designed equipment using real‑life experience combined with producers’ input, holds a lot of weight!


I’ve always said, “These machines all feed a pig!” I am also now convinced you need to prove it! “Has the pig been fed?” Maximus now has a revolutionary SMART technology that does exactly that. From the feed bin to the new “bobble head” feed dispenser on the 3P bottle, Maximus tracks the feed delivery to the sow and can prove it!



Summary


So YES, it is important to look at how something is built to ensure quality and reliability, absolutely! However, with all of the above said, my conclusion from 30+ years of ESF experience has told me that even if you could make an ESF station 100% indestructible, in all aspects, you could still be removing it from your barn, well before the lifespan of the barn, if you don’t understand what it takes to operate it!

Partnering with people that ‘check the boxes’ for Durable, Reliable, Simple and Adaptable is always a good first step in building a successful Group Sow Housing system.


Drew has well over 3 decades of experience that he brings to MAXIMUM AG in both Outdoor and Indoor sow production on a large scale. Along with establishing on-farm Quality Management Programs and Independent Consulting roles, Drew’s knowledge on group housing is a great addition for MAXIMUM AG and its customers. His first exposure to ESF technology was more than 30 years ago in the UK. More recently he has worked with many of the other group feeding systems in the US as the industry started to adapt to the European way of thinking.


“I believe that Maximus can provide a foundation for true animal care through precision monitoring of all the critical areas of the production system. In addition, I feel by offering a simple, manageable solution for group sow housing, they have found what I would describe as “the middle ground,” that the US industry needs.”


Drew adds, “When group housing is too simple the sow is compromised but then when it’s made too complex the people can become compromised. The result either way is that production suffers. No system is perfect, but I believe a balance of what’s best for both the pigs, people, and the US industry in the future, is achievable.”

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Maximum Ag Technologies Corporate Office

6726 Roger Drive, Suite A

Jenison, MI  49428

Phone:  (616) 350-9000

​Fax:  (616) 209-7319

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