Prairie Swine Centre

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Author(s): Lang, F. C., Hayne, S. M., Heron, V., and Gonyou, H. W.
Publication Date: August 4, 2010
Reference: Centred On Swine Volume 15, Issue 2, Spring 2010
Country: Canada


With announcements by the largest producer/packers in both the USA and Canada that they will transition all of their production facilities to group housing for sows over the next ten years, all North American producers are anticipating a change to group housing. This can be a challenging step for producers, and it is made more difficult by the lack of scientific information currently available on the implementation and design of alternative systems. Group housing systems can be complex to initiate and require greater input from stockmen, however when done correctly, can produce sows that are able to socially interact with one another and have the freedom to move. Sows currently housed in gestation stalls have almost no opportunity to exercise and perform natural behaviours, leading to a possible decline in well-being. It has previously been suggested that exercise is required to maintain bone composition and strength, and when exercise is insufficient, calcium will be mobilized from the bone itself (Lanyon, 1984 and 1987). Exercise is important to allow the development of bone and muscle to their maximum potential. Decreased muscular strength (which is commonly observed in confined sows) can contribute towards difficulty in lying and standing, and higher susceptibility to lameness due to increased slipping. Lack of exercise in confined housing has also been shown to cause bone weakness in other species. For example, confined laying hens have significantly weaker humeri and tibiae than birds housed in non restrictive environments (Knowles and Broom, 1990). One possible alternative to gestation crates are free access or walk-in/lock-in stalls. This system provides sows with opportunities to interact as a group in a communal area, or remain alone in a free access stall. There is some concern regarding the degree to which sows use free space group areas, and how to avoid aggression, particularly when new sows are mixed into a group. This study investigates the implementation of walk-in/lock-in stalls for group housed sows. More specifically, the objectives of this study were to compare two different pen configurations by determining the proportion and type (size/parity) of sows that are using the free space areas of the walk-in/lock-in stalls, and also how sows utilize the free space areas.

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