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Understanding behavioural motivations of sows enhances group housing success

A research Scientist with the Prairie Swine Centre says understanding the behavioural motivations of the sow will enhance success in group housing systems.

14 February 2020, at 10:43am

Canada's latest Code of Practice for the care and handling of pigs, released in 2014, encourages pork producers to shift from housing gestating sows in stalls to group housing by 2024. Loose sow housing and managing social behaviour and aggression was the theme of one of the discussions that took place last week as part of the 2020 Manitoba Swine Seminar.

group housed sows in straw

Speaking to Farmscape, Dr Jennifer Brown, a research scientist in ethology with the Prairie Swine Centre, says, in general, when managing sows in groups, aggression is the most obvious problem we're going to see so understanding why sows are aggressive and when, what motivates that behaviour and the different ways we can control it is going to help producers have greater success with group housing.

"It really depends on the system. There's so many management factors. It depends on who you're speaking to and how successful they've been in implementing group housing.

"Certainly with stalls we're all very familiar with the way they're designed and how they should be managed but there’s some variation there obviously but, with group housing, depending on the feeding system you're using and your grouping practices, the results are more variable.

"But, with some of the better producers, I've heard reports of more consistent body condition of sows.

"We know from a health perspective that that's very beneficial for the long term productive life of sows.

"These herds have also seen a reduction in mortality rate due to being able to better manage feed provision, especially in these electronic sow feeding (ESF) and free access ESF systems where each sow gets a specific amount of feed."

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Dr Brown says, now that producers are more familiar with the different group housing systems, we need to dig a little bit deeper into how we manage sows in these groups and to do that we need a better understanding of the sow’s behavioural motivation and how her social behaviour develops over time.