MN Impact: Sow Wellness and the Effects of Group Housing
Gestation housing is one of the most important welfare issues in the swine industry. With the rapid development in regulation on sow housing, information on management strategies for group-housed gestation sows is in urgent demand.
Group housing of gestating sows improves sow welfare by providing freedom of movement, but also induces aggression among sows.
What Has Been Done?
In 2013 a study was conducted on a large-scale commercial farm to investigate the performance and well-being of gestating sows in pens retrofitted from stalls. The results suggested performance and well-being of sows were compromised in pens, as indicated by decreased farrowing rates and increased sow removal rates.
The researchers concluded the limited floor space allowed and the competitive floor feeding system could be the problem. New management strategies were tested and found smaller static groups of sows 35-40 performed better than larger dynamic groups of 105-120 sows.
Next, researchers investigated whether providing open stalls would be useful to low ranking sows as hiding spaces during mixing. Sows were video-recorded and results showed that sows in pens with open stalls fought less frequently and had fewer injuries than sows in pens without stalls.
The results of this animal welfare research have been distributed nationally. Animal scientists, swine producers and extension educators are using the management strategies developed to improve sow well-being and productive efficiency.