Farm Horizons, February 2008

Where to house our sows?

From U of M Extension Service

Consumer interest and concern with sow housing is an important, emerging issue in the US. The pork industry has moved to using gestation stalls over the past 40 years since they reduce sow aggression and injuries.

However, consumers see gestation stalls as a welfare issue, demonstrated by bans on gestation stalls in Florida and Arizona. Smithfield and Maple Leaf Foods have announced plans this past year to eliminate gestation stalls over the next 10 years, while a similar phase-out was just recently announced by Colorado pork producers.

Here are some sow feeding systems available in group housing:

• Electronic sow feeding (ESF), where groups of 40-65 sows are fed with one computer. Individual sow feeding occurs and physical aggression is somewhat reduced, although vulva biting is common as sows wait their turn to the feeder.

• Feeding stalls are a low-tech, but effective method of feeding. Sows are allowed to roam freely in their group pens, but are fed in individual stalls. This reduces competition and aggression.

• Floor feeding results in the greatest incidence of aggression and injuries. Dominant sows push out more passive sows and eat more feed. This results in varying body condition throughout the pen. Distributing feed over several locations helps, but doesn’t eliminate the problem.

• Feeding troughs and trickle feeding systems also result in aggression, injuries and dominant sows pushing others away.

Very little is known about feeding requirements of different systems. Design and management of feeding systems will be very important, regardless of the system.

The sow housing issue is not going away anytime soon and will challenge our ability to understand management and economic differences in various housing systems. Understanding our best options and areas to work on will help us adapt to different housing systems if they’re needed or desired.  n

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