Loose housing performance comparable to stalls

US - A new study is raising questions about the effectiveness of gestation stalls for housing pregnant sows. A two and a half year research project at Iowa State University has shown that performance from loose housing systems are comparable with stalls.
calendar icon 15 May 2007
clock icon 4 minute read
Peter Lammers, an Iowa State University graduate who worked on the project said the research showed that there was no dramatic difference in pig performance between the two systems.

The investigations tracked 957 litters from 353 sows. They found that sows housed in hoop barns, a type of accommodation where sows run free, gave birth to more live pigs per litter than those confined in stalls throughout gestation.

They also found that group housing sows could possibly reduce costs - by as much as 11% less per weaned pig.

Bedding benefit
Mr Lammers said that sows in the hoop barns may have done better because of the bedding and their ability to huddle, which allows them more control over their temperature. Individual feeding stalls in the hoop barns continued to allow sows to be fed according to condition and age.

Even though soiled straw must be removed, the researchers said group housing may not necessarily require more labour per animal than gestation stalls.

"In the United States, using a bedded system for gestating sows is relatively unfamiliar," said Mark Honeyman, animal science professor and co-ordinator of ISU‘s Research Farms. "With increased experience, management will evolve and production may be enhanced," he added.

Researchers said that the purpose of the study wasn't to pitch one system against the other. It was to examine what impact a change to loose housing may have on sow performance.

Cost consideration
A related study, based on a survey of general contractors and equipment/materials suppliers, said the estimated construction cost per gestating sow in hoop barns was $552, compared with $815 for a stall system. However, this type of accommodation was quite 'low-cost' compared to the more technically-advanced systems, such as electronic sow feeding stations and/or trickle feeding systems, that are used in the UK and Europe.

In the US there has been a backlash against confinement systems and some food processors and food service businesses have pledged not to purchase meat from farms using these systems. The European Union is due to phase out stalls by 2013 and they are already banned in the UK. Voters in Florida and Arizona have already approved ballot initiatives to ban the system in these states within the next few years.

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States said that pigs are highly intelligent animals and being crammed into a small space that doesn't even allow them to turn around, was unacceptable.

The pork industry has defended the use of the gestation stalls. It says that pregnant sows can be aggressive toward one another when housed in groups, and that the stalls allow for equal feeding and individual care which optimises their productivity.

Dave Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council represents 67,000 US pork producers. He said most of the production industry uses gestation stalls, although he said there were advantages and disadvantages for both systems.

The pork industry must be aware of consumer preferences and market demands, but further studies, to evaluate the commercial reality of using loose housing systems, were needed.

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