Make it a chance
not a chore
Unilateral legislation on pig welfare by the UK obliges producers still using sow stall or tether dry sow housing to introduce an approved alternative by Jan 1, 1999. The challenge is to find a replacement system that enables sows to at least maintain performance. Jonathan Riley reports
PIG producers converting from stalls and tethers should opt for a replacement system that allows sows to be fed individually. It should be introduced when the financial constraints of the business will allow.
The advice comes from North Humberside-based ADAS pig consultant Mike Brade.
"Any planning should ensure that management and investment decisions are in keeping with long-term requirements of the business, and aim to improve production and efficiency," he says.
"Investing purely to replace the existing housing may be a lost opportunity. Consider making other changes at the same time – such as increasing sale weight or the overall herd size – to strengthen the position of the business."
He accepts that the timing of investments will vary with individual circumstances.
"But early 1998 may be a good time to make the change. Then the time left before the ban could be used to make adjustments to the new equipment if necessary," he says.
He also warns that demand for equipment, buildings and building contractors will be considerable if most producers leave conversions until the final months before the ban is imposed.
Once the timing of the investment is chosen, the next step is to decide whether to convert existing buildings or to invest in purpose-built housing.
Whatever the decision, he urges caution when assessing existing buildings for conversion, which can often be a compromise on the ideal. Many buildings are too old, of the wrong type or the wrong dimensions for the purpose.
"Remember you will be working in the building for a long time, and trying to make do with a poor layout is a false economy."
He stresses that the feeding system will have a big bearing on the management of the herd. Stalls and tethers allow sows to be fed individually to condition, whereas group feeding offers less control.
"Individual feeding must be retained at least for part of the pregnancy and ideally throughout the dry sow period, even though such feed systems tend to be more expensive to install," says Mr Brade.
"Stall or tether houses converted to loose housing are likely to hold only 65% of the sows originally housed. Therefore, additional accommodation will have to be provided for the remaining 35%, or the herd size reduced.
"One solution is to invest in a purpose-built house with individual feeders for about a third of the herd and then convert the existing set-up to a group-fed system to keep costs to a minimum. "This will make it possible to achieve the right condition in the early part of the dry sow period.
"Floor feeding, through dump or spin feeders, is usually the cheapest option but provides little opportunity to cater for individual needs," he says.
"In addition, direct wastage of feed in straw, and the extra feed needed to ensure the poorest sow gets her share, could cost an extra £10 to £15 a sow a year.
"Individual feeding systems such as yards or kennels with scraped passages and individual feeders are more expensive. Initially this is due to the extra space allowance needed but they also tend to have a higher labour requirement. Between the two, in cost terms, are such options as electronic sow feeders – usually the cheapest form of individual feeding – and trickle feeders," he says.
"On a greenfield site floor feeding is likely to cost about £300 to £350 a sow place, and yards with scraped passages and individual feeders cost about £600 a place," says Mr Brade.
"Although the initial cost of a system is important, it is the overall costs for equipment, labour, bedding and other running costs over the life of the system that count.
"The key question is can the business stand the costs of the change? If the answer is no, then it is back to the drawing board," he says. *
What do the different dry sow housing options have to offer?
AccommodatesNoNoNoNoNoYes within individuality in the limits
sow feedingimposed by
Minimises aggressiveYes but evenNo. The No? The No. The No.Yes.
encounters betweensome stallfeeding feedingfeeding CompetitionProviding
sowssystems allowsystemfrustrationsystemfor access feeder
aggressionencouragesmay produceencouragesto feedersaccess
Permits control ofYes, butNoNoNoYesYes and
individual sow intakesome feedautomates
troughs do not
of feed to next stall
Provides protection toYesNoPartialNoYesYes
the sow while feeding
Provides the sow withNoCan doCan doCan doCan doCan do
a variety of microclimates
and the opportunity to
exercise some control
Allows the sow toNoYesYesYesYesYes
indulge in a wide
range of behaviours.
Source: Seale Hayne College, University of Plymouth and ADAS.
• Early 1998 could be a good time to carry out conversions so that adjustments can be made before the ban is imposed.
• Be critical when assessing existing buildings ear-marked for conversion.
• Use individual feeders at least for part of the dry period to manage sow condition score.
• Individual feeders and scraped passages: £600 a sow place.
• Floor feeding: £300 to £350 a sow place.
• Floor feeding could cost £15 a sow a year more to run than individual systems due to higher feed use.
ADASconsultant Mike Brade: "Individual feeding must be retained at least for part of the pregnancy and ideally throughout the dry sow period."
Trickle feeders allow good observation, the ability to tailor condition score within small groups and partial protection for the sow when feeding.
Electronic sow feeder systems make it possible for pig producers to feed the sow individually according to her particular needs.