Group Sow Housing Focus Groups – Initial Results

Initial results of a project to uncover what pork producers need to be able to comply with this new law requiring sows to be kept in group housing during most of their pregnancy. The article appears in the latest MSU Pork Quarterly and is written by Ronald O. Bates (State Swine Specialist, Michigan State University) and Beth Ferry (Pork Educator, Cass Co., Cassopolis).
calendar icon 19 October 2010
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During October 2009, the Michigan Legislature passed legislation (P.A. 117) that would ban the use of stalls for housing gestating sows. Within the legislation gestating sows are defined as sows that have been confirmed pregnant. Sows that have been confirmed pregnant must be able to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. Sows can be housed in stalls for seven days before their expected farrowing date, through farrowing and lactation and after weaning up until the time confirmed pregnant. Housing gestating sows in stalls is allowable for veterinary examination, testing or treatment as directed by a veterinarian.

This legislation became effective 31 March 2010 and producers must comply with the legislation by 1 April 2020. The Michigan State University Pork Team, in collaboration with Michigan Pork Producers Association completed Focus Groups in February and March to determine what information pork producers believe they need to be able to comply with this new law and remain sustainable within the pork industry.

Focus Groups

Focus Groups were completed in February and March 2010 in Allegan, Centreville and Mount Pleasant. Pork producers were asked to attend one of these sessions. In addition, producers with employees were asked to include a member from their farm staff to attend.

Each Focus Group had three sessions. During the first two sessions, participants were asked to address the following statement, "When my farm changes to group housing for gestating sows, I will need more information/education about…". During Session I, they were asked to develop topics that would finish this statement from a strategic or whole-farm point of view to determine what information would be necessary to decide what type of group housing system would be employed when switching to group housing from gestation stalls. During Session II, participants were asked to address the same statement, "When my farm changes to group housing for gestating sows, I will need more information/education about…" but they were to address it from tactical or an on-the-farm implementation of group housing point of view.

For both sessions, participants were given a list of items to consider that would complete the statements under consideration. Participants could keep, modify, delete and add to the list of items that would complete the statement being considered.

Once the lists of items were completed, participants were asked to designate which items were of most importance to them. This was done by placing an adhesive dot by the item of their choice. Participants were given five dots in which they could use as they wished.

Aggregation of Results

After each of the three Focus Group sessions, results were aggregated across focus groups. In Table 1 are those topics of highest priority that producers indicated they needed more information to improve their strategic planning. Producers indicated that their highest priorities were information regarding what options were available to retrofit existing facilities and what systems to implement. Yet there were strong opinions regarding need for further information on all of the ranked topics.

In Table 2 are the highest ranked topics pertaining to informational needs for tactical/implementation planning. Defining sow groups and how to form them ranked highest with Employee Training ranked second. For both strategic and tactical planning Employee Training and Education were areas of concern as producers considered their needs regarding moving from housing gestating sows in stalls to group sow housing.

On-Going Planning and Future Direction

The MSUE Pork Group has begun to use this information in educational material development and future educational programming. Presently educational material is being developed pertaining to differing group sow options, strategies for grouping and mixing sows as well as characterization of feeding systems. Future plans include evaluating and developing tools that producers can use to evaluate different group housing options. Also employee education regarding managing sows in groups will be an important component of this effort.

The MSUE Pork team has appreciated the ongoing support of the Michigan Pork Producers Association and wishes to thank those Michigan producers who participated in the Sow Housing Focus Groups. This effort was funded in part by an MSUE Program Planning grant.

October 2010

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