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An Alternative to Traditional Swine Housing

By Kim Waalderbos, Ontario Pork Newsletter - Innovative and economical loose housing designs are many and varied. Guelph researchers recently compared how one loose housing system measured up to traditional gestation stalls at the newly-renovated Arkell Research Station.
calendar icon 8 April 2003
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Information provided courtsey Ontario Pork Ontario Pork Logo

April 2003 Newsletter

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News & Notes

Graduate student Monica Séguin, Prof. Tina Widowski and Dr. Dave Barney, Department of Animal and Poultry Science, and Arkell Research Station Swine Centre technicians looked at sow behaviour and production differences in the two systems.

"The European Union has imposed a ban on gestation stalls, and there's a growing public concern for the ethical treatment of animals in food production," says Séguin. "Ontario producers are beginning to search for more housing alternatives to gestation stalls, and our experience suggests that this loose housing system is a practical alternative that's worth considering."

More than 400 sows and gilts were involved in the research. The sows were grouped in one of three space allotments, and the number of sows housed in a pen range from 11 to 31, depending on the pen's size.

They used videotape to observe differences in how sows behaved in loose housing at varying space allotments. Researchers checked body condition scores and weights before and after housing. Skin scores examining scratches from any aggressive behaviour were monitored weekly.

Preliminary data indicates no difference in overall production, the number of births, or birth weights between loose housing and gestation stalls or in signs of aggressive behaviour in loose sows at the different space allotments.

However, the structure of the loose housing complex provided a greater opportunity for more economical use of space, Séguin says. Sows are kept in the system at generous space allowances at the research station - for the system to be more economically viable, sows would have to housed more densely.

"One unique feature of this group housing complex was the inclusion of four sub- walls to create a feel of smaller compartments within the pen," says Séguin. "This allows for the distribution of feed and provides 'hiding' places for the sows."

This research was sponsored by Ontario Pork, the Agricultural Adaptation Council and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

Source: Ontario Pork, April 2003