Genetic Selection Plays Key Role in Success of Group Sow Housing

by 5m Editor
2 January 2008, at 9:00am

CANADA - An Embro, Ontario based swine producer reports genetic selection will play a key role in the level of aggression displayed by sows housed in group based production systems, writes Bruce Cochrane.

In 1996, to adopt more welfare friendly housing which would allow sows to exhibit normal instincts such as rooting and socializing, Heronbrook Farm shifted from conventional sow housing to a group based system.

Chris Cockle says the role of genetics on aggression and health and welfare under the group system presented a learning curve.

Chris Cockle-Heronbrook Farm

The animals that we were working with at the time that we did make the switch were a very strong animal and the genetic component was changed by our breeding company to a more productive animal but in the process it became finer boned and was less adaptable to the group housing system.

We have since changed that to produce our own replacement animals and one of the major criteria in our selection program is strength of the animal, structure and hoof and leg quality.

When we made the switch to the loose sow housing we were running at about four to five percent sow mortality and when we had the aggressive sows in it peaked at about 11.2 percent in 2002.

That was when we really decided that we had to do something different.

We started breeding back our own sows and doing our own replacement program and the last quarter on Pig Champ showed that our sow mortality was down to one percent.

I think, as far as aggression and the longevity of sows, there is a lot to do with the genetic package that you're working with.

Cockle says, in comparing the four years previous to the switch to the four years since, there's been little difference in productivity.

However he adds, the capital cost of a group housing system is about 30 percent lower than a conventional system and while labour costs are about the same the animals are easier to work with under a group system.

5m Editor