28 April 1995

Sow stalls essential during the first few weeks of pregnancy

PIG farmers must fight to retain stalls for sows in the first few weeks after conception, according to Andrew McCartney, production executive in Scotland for the National Pig Development Com-pany (now owned by the Pig Imp-rovement Company).

Dry sow stalls and tethers will be banned in the UK from Jan 1, 1999, but Mr McCartney insists producers should be allowed to retain stalls for the first critical weeks of pregnancy, to allow individual feeding and management.

He speaks from experience, having converted a 300-sow unit four years ago but keeping stalls for AI and 38 days of pregnancy, by when foetal heartbeats can be detected. There is an earlier scan for uterus blood flow at 28 days.

"This is a critical time in sow management and I believe it is important we keep stalls for this stage," says Mr McCartney.

The conversion at Parkside, Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, was for 300 Upton Meishan sows – the synthetic breed produced by NPD by crossing pure Meishan with high litter size Large White boars – in a multiplying herd that produces Manor Meishan hybrids.

Mr McCartney feels sow breed will be important when choosing a feeding system for new dry sow accommodation. "I think the Meishan cross is ideally suited to ad lib feeding, but an ad lib system may not suit Large White-Land- race crosses, which could put on too much condition," he says. A Scottish Agricultural College trial supports that view.

The Upton Meishans at Park-side are on a dump feeding system, but there was a trial with them on ad lib feeding using a special formulation which included 60% unmolassed beet pulp. "That was to satisfy appetite without putting on too much condition, and it worked very well."

Pen size in the converted building was dictated by the house support posts, and the end result was groups of 17 in oblong pens 3.7m (12ft) wide and with 6.65m (22ft) length for bedding and 3.53m (12ft) for dunging. That gave a total area a sow of 2.2sq m, which SAC expert Allan Stewart says is about the minimum.

But it did allow the Parkside unit to lose only four sow places in the conversion, and with the use of farm labour and incorporating materials from the stalls, cost was kept to about £110 a sow place.

Mr McCartney is currently having the firms nucleus unit at Dyce, Aberdeen, converted and is then planning to come back to the original unit at Parkside, where it is likely that a new dry sow house for the 300 Large White and Landrace sows that produce Manor Hybrids will be erected.

Experience from his own unit and from visiting others is pushing Mr McCartney down some definite paths. He is going to incorporate a clear climatic change between bedding and dunging areas in the new buildings.

The aim is to create a high comfort bedding area of minimal stress. He will keep to dump feeding of pellets, which he sees as the most cost-effective method and with the advantage of causing the sows to root about in the straw. Dunging area will take up at least 40% of the total space allocation. He accepts the SAC recommendation of a minimum total area of 2.33sq m a sow and says the pens should be as square as possible.

SAC expert Alan Stewart says such a building should cost about £400 a sow place. &#42

Sow stalls are vital, at least until a foetal heartbeat can be detected.

Sow stall advocate, Andrew McCartney of the NPDC in Scotland.