Loose housing – no loss
CONVERTING to loose housing of sows need not lead to loss of performance, according to Herman Vermeer of the Research Institute for Pig Husbandry at Rosmalen in the south of Holland.
Despite some negative responses following initial research in 1992 – in which increased lameness and more aggression were identified – subsequent research has shown that, given the right management, there is little difference between the systems.
Four set-ups have been put to the test at Rosmalen – individual stalls, free access stalls, trickle feeding group housing and electronic sow feeding.
The research showed that, while lameness was still a problem in the early stages, the longer the loose housed system operates, the less of a problem it becomes. Chewing after feeding was also reduced – indicative of a lower stress level.
But in the key areas of farrowing rate and piglet survival, there were no significant differences. (See table)
Armed with this information, the Institute was able to advise the government and farmers that a move to group housing was possible, without loss of physical performance.
But while there is much interest from farmers to make the change ahead of the 2008 deadline laid down in the welfare regulations, the lack of money in the industry at the moment is holding them back, says Dr Vermeer. "Many have plans to convert, but cant afford to do so."
Increasing sow space to 2.25m sq under group housing compared with the 1.3m sq currently allowed under individual housing has a big cost implication. Already housing accounts for about 25% of the total pig production cost.
"We are at the beginning of the development. We will be increasing it rapidly over the next few years," says Dr Vermeer.
Group housing v stalls
Individual Free access Group housing Group housing
stalls stalls (trickle feed) (electronic feed)
Sows present 86 85 89 88
Farrowing rate 84% 84% 86% 86%
Liveborn 10.7 10.9 10.7 11.0
Oral activity 32% 20% 27% 9%
Claw problems 8% 10% 18% 19%