Key Consideration When Designing Group Sow Housing Systems

CANADA - An agriculture professor with Newcastle University suggests, when creating group housing systems for pregnant sows, designers need to focus primarily on minimizing aggression, Bruce Cochrane writes.
calendar icon 16 December 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

Several nations have banned the use of gestation stalls for housing pregnant sows and a number of North American pork processors have announced plans to phase out the purchase of hogs from operations that use gestation stalls.

Dr Sandra Edwards, a professor of Agriculture with Newcastle University, observes loose housed sows have more freedom which creates a greater potential for aggression.

Dr Sandra Edwards-Newcastle University

I would highlight three key challenges for group housing.

The first one is the management of the feeding.

You have to ensure that the sows individually still can get the right amount of food for them because, unless you can ensure the sows are all properly individually fed for their needs, you can't sustain the highest levels of performance.

More importantly you can't have a quiet smooth running non-aggressive system.

The second challenge is to minimize the amount of aggression in those systems.
If there is any scope for competition or if there is mixing then sows will fight and, in badly designed systems, that can cause significant damage and welfare problems for the animals.

It can also cause significant reductions in productivity.

Second issue then is the housing you put around your feeding system of choice and how much space you give the animals to move around, avoid each other and make the necessary social signals to stop aggression breaking out.

Dr Edwards says if you get group housing right, it can be just as financially viable as existing stall systems but if you get it wrong there will be problems and for an industry that's under constant cost pressure that's a huge risk.

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