Piglets raised in group housing during lactation weigh 800g less than in conventional farrowing pens, German researchers have found. In addition, mortality is higher.
These findings are gradually emerging during ongoing trials at research facility Futterkamp in Northern Germany. At a recent meeting for pig producers in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, researcher Onno Burfeind spoke about the so-called Inno-Pig project.
This Futterkamp project dives into loose housing during lactation and group housing of lactating sows, in cooperation with several scientists, pig house builders and pig industry representatives.
Pen types for lactating sows
Currently the project is midway and in 4 rounds the researchers have observed the results in several pen types for lactating sows. They compared conventional farrowing pens, free farrowing pens and group housing for lactating sows and newborn piglets.
The first results showed that piglets from sows in group housing weigh 800g less at weaning (at 4 weeks). Farrowing weights are lower especially when more than 8 sows share a pen. Burfeind said that piglets in group housing may in a less structural way and less regularly than in conventional farrowing pens.
Lower creep feed intake
Piglets in group housing also have a lower creep feed intake in the lactation period. They have to walk further to get to the creep feed as it is only possible inside the piglet nest, to avoid the sows to eat the creep feed.
A sow in the trial facility Futterkamp, part of the research. Photo Henk Riswick
Another downside of the group housing during lactation is the substantially higher count of piglet mortality, researchers found at Futterkamp. During the first days of life, 80% of all mortality is due to crushing. During the first 4 days post-farrowing, the sows are not mixed; they are kept inside their own pens, albeit not fixed in a crate.
Post-weaning effects of group lactation
The research extends into effects post-weaning. The researchers involved in the project will also investigate how piglets from the different lactation strategies perform in the grow and finisher phases. Technical results are being taken into account and so are behaviour and stress levels.
The research facility is currently performing research into a host of different other topics as well, Burfeind said. Alternatives for castration without anaesthetics, for instance, a ban on tail docking and the effects of wider crates in AI and waiting rooms.