21 November 1997

Better welfare for sow groups

BETTER stockmanship is needed to safeguard sow welfare in group housing.

That is the finding of a report on the welfare of intensive pigs, written by the EUs scientific veterinary advisers.

It stresses that sow welfare is better when kept in groups (News, Nov 14) but cautions that the major disadvantage of group housing is that injuries such as bites to the vulva or skin can occur, and sows can slip on the floor. Better stockmanship is needed to prevent these adverse effects, it states.

It also advises that housing systems resulting in minimal aggression should be used. This can be achieved if sows in groups are fed using a system which ensures that each animal can obtain sufficient food without being attacked.

Housing facilities for dry sows and gilts should also include communal lying areas, in addition to any feeding stalls or boxes, of at least 1.3m sq per sow (0.95m sq for gilts).

SAC pigs expert Dr Sandra Edwards agrees with the conclusion that, if everything else is equal, group housing of sows is more welfare friendly than stalls. "But the really important conclusion is that management is the key to welfare. Bad management in a group housing system will leave pigs worse off than in an efficiently run stalls system."