29 October 1999

Feeding tactics curb aggression in loose housing

The transition from sow stalls

to open accommodation at

Plumpton College has

brought challenges. But its

head pigman is well on the

way to beating them.

Marianne Curtis reports

LOOSE sow housing may be perceived as welfare-friendly by the public, but the reality can be somewhat different.

Surprised by aggression level when sows moved to an open system, one colleges head pigman installed more feeders and offers round bale silage to overcome it.

Conscious of the high numbers of non-farming schoolchildren and adults visiting Plumpton College, Plumpton, East Sussex, when dry sow accommodation was due for renewal last year, it chose a straw-based electronic sow feeder (ESF) system.

"Many big producers use trickle-feed systems, but we wanted to avoid having bars everywhere. Visitors dont perceive them as being welfare friendly," says the colleges head pigman, Dan Leggett.

Before building dry accommodation for the 110-sow herd, Mr Leggett visited other units to see what worked and what didnt. He noticed that where gilts and sows were mixed, bullying of gilts was a particular problem.

"Once gilts have experienced bullying, they can remain wary all their lives. Alternatively, they may later become bullies themselves. I decided to house gilts separately with timid sows."

Feeding is also a critical time for aggression. "Manufacturers recommend that up to 50 sows can be fed from one ESF. But I noticed that sows were becoming frustrated and aggressive about waiting for long periods to enter feeders.

"Using two feeders for our main group of 60 sows cuts down on waiting times and aggression." Another feeder is used for gilts. Bought-in gilts are kept in a training pen and take about a week to adapt to feeders, says Mr Leggett.

Feeders are positioned to minimise conflict between animals. "Placing feeders about 60ft from the bedding area means sows are not disturbing resting sows when they go to feed."

Bedding can also be kept cleaner by careful positioning of water troughs, he says. "Sows tend to pee after they drink. Placing water troughs close to where sows leave feeders reduces fouling in the bedding area." Straw usage has fallen from seven D1000 square bales to two round bales a week.

Sows also eat less straw because they are given two bales of silage a week. "Silage keeps sows busy, reducing aggression. Round bale silage is better than clamp silage because chop length is longer. Sows pull out a mouthful of silage then move away from the bale to chew it, avoiding conflict with others."

Although aggression is under control, there are times when it is hard to avoid, says Mr Leggett. "When sows are introduced to the group aggression is unavoidable.

"There is also pressure at 3pm when feeding begins – sows hear feed entering the feeders – but there is no way round it."

CUTTING SOW AGGRESSION

&#8226 25-30 sows an electronic feeder.

&#8226 Separate gilts and timid sows.

&#8226 Consider feeding silage.