Animal Behaviour Key When Selecting Feeding Systems for Group Housed Sows

CANADA - An agriculture professor with Newcastle University says an understanding animal behavior when selecting feeding systems and formulating diets can help avoid many of the problems encountered when caring for pregnant sows, according to Bruce Cochrane.
calendar icon 29 November 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

"Group Housing of Sows: Getting it Right" was discussed last week in Saskatoon as part of Saskatchewan Pork Industry Symposium 2013.

Dr Sandra Edwards, a professor of Agriculture with Newcastle University, explains loose housed sows have a lot more freedom to engage in a wider range of activities so understanding what they want to do and why becomes more important.

Dr Sandra Edwards-Newcastle University

For the sows themselves two behaviors that they're very strongly motivated to do are things we need to consider.

The first one is they are very strongly motivated to feed.

It's an evolutionary necessity for animals and it's still in our modern sows.

We feed them levels which are perfectly adequate for good health and good performance but from the sow's point of view they're not very satisfying.

They're used to actually having bulkier diets and more gut fill and a small amount of concentrated food will leave them unsatisfied.

In that situation two things can happen.

If they can show a normal type of food searching behavior, as they can for example in straw systems in the UK, then they'll spend time doing that.

If you put them in a situation where they can't show those behaviors then you start to see more problems.

If they're in gestation stalls those behaviors turn into things like the bar biting which has been highlighted so much by animal welfare organizations.

If they're in group systems those behaviors can generate frustration and aggression and problems like fighting or vulva biting that we wish to avoid.

Dr Edwards recommends selecting feeding systems which allow the animals to eat without competition or aggression and formulating diets which leave the sow more satisfied at the end of feeding to reduce frustration.

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