Effect of Rubber Flooring and Social Grouping on the Utilization of Free Space for Sows in Walk-in/Lock-in Stalls
A gestation stall alternative are walk-in/lock-in stalls, a group housing design that gives sows a choice to the communal area or to remain in the stall while providing individual feeding protection. Most sows use the free space area, but they did not use it for any extended period of time. The majority used it for less that 5% of their time, with the average being around 18%, so the benefits of group housing are not that apparent. Heavier and older sows used the space the most which indicates the younger ones may be avoiding social stress. Ways to increase the time spent in the free access space were investigated. By adding rubber mats to the free space area in an I-pen configuration both older and younger sows spent much more time on the rubber flooring. In the T-pens, only the younger sows increased free space use when rubber flooring was applied. Sow comfort increased when rubber flooring was used with more lateral lying present. Rubber flooring encourages the use of free space in free access stalls, though more forms of enrichment (drinkers, straw racks, enrichment devices) may also entice the sows to maximize the benefits of group sow housing.