The return of the gestation crates?
Over the last couple of years I have seen many farms in Europe that have switched to group housing for sows. The change, however, is not everywhere going absolutely fluently.
As is well known, from 2013, all pig breeders in the European Union should have phased out gestation crates, due to welfare legislation. Basically, and as described in a 2007 article in Pig Progress, there are two major ways of applying group sow housing, that is using Electronic Sow Feeding and loose access stalls.
In the last option, the gestating sows are kept and fed in crates like in the past as if they had their own bedrooms. They, however, have the opportunity to wander out or lock themselves in if they feel like it.
In the first option, crates have been completely phased out – sows are kept in large spaces and are fed (and can also be monitored) through Electronic Sow Feeding equipment.
Pig farmers however have already come across the reason why, decades ago, the use of gestation crates was introduced in pig breeding in the first place: sows will fight amongst each other to establish hierarchy.
Despite the assurance of various industry representatives that this potential fighting will only last a couple of days, I have seen various producers now that did not take the risk due to the loss of various sows – and just locked the free access stalls to be on the safe side.
Understandably as it is, this sounds like an old-fashioned paradox – welfare legislation potentially leading to sow casualties.
The alternative isn't good either as having spacious sow facilities but using only small parts of it would infer a very ineconomical use of farm premises. How could this be solved?
According to John Gadd, frequent blogger of www.pigprogress.net, the system of free access stalls will not create any problems, provided four conditions have to be met:
• Allow sows to settle down in the first three to four weeks after insemination as they are still somewhat restless after weaning. These weeks they are allowed to be kept in crates anyway. Give them their time.
• Provide ample straw bedding in the pen.
• Allow them plenty of space outside the crates.
• Install a one-way lock so sows can decide for themselves if they want to be in their crates or not.
In Britain, Gadd adds, pig producers started to occupy empty dairy farms and used this space to house their gestating sows.
New housing systems, have been very expensive, he says – but it is good to see that producers have found creative ways to solve the problems posed by new welfare legislation.
I am curious to hear your opinions as to problems other producers may have come across - or even better: solutions you may have found.
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