For the US swine industry, the most controversial animal welfare issue debated over to date is the discussion on housing facilities of pregnant sows; more specifically, the use of gestation stalls/crates.
From a scientific standpoint, there are pros and cons to every housing system. Based on the research, there is no one ideal system to house a pregnant sow, and in fact, management of the sows rather than the facility itself plays a critical role in the productivity, health and success of a herd.
Science is not the only factor
However, like most animal welfare issues, science is neither the only voice in the discussion nor the only factor that plays a role in the decisions we make regarding how we manage swine. In the US, changes to sow housing systems have been driven both by legislation and retailer expectations.
Since 2009, 8 states have implemented legislation limiting certain housing systems. The first of which was passed in 2003 in Florida which 'prevent(ed) a person from confining a pig during pregnancy... in such a way that she is prevent(ed) from turning around freely'. Once Amendment 10 in Florida passed, several ballot initiatives followed, including Michigan and Ohio which will phase out gestation stalls by 2019 and 2025, respectively. In addition to state level legislation, over 35 retail companies have issued announcements specific on gestation stall use and their willingness to accept pork from suppliers utilising stalls.
First annual Tri-State Sow Housing Conference
Recognising that change is inevitable, extension specialists and professors from Michigan State University, the Ohio State University and Purdue University will host the first annual Tri-State Sow Housing Conference. The conference will be held on February 9th, 2016 and consist of a day of educational material to prepare Indiana, Michigan and Ohio producers during this transition.
The day-long conference will host speakers from varying aspects of the swine industry to discuss topics related to sow housing. Topics to be covered include the retailer perspective on marketing pressure related to sow housing, social perception of sow housing and buying behaviour of consumers, and employee training on the management and care of group housed sows.
Making transit to group housing less challenging
In addition, three producers from each state have been invited to speak on a producer panel to answer questions related to the challenges and opportunities of transitioning. Each producer has successfully transitioned a position or all of their operation to group housing.
Lastly, Dr Lisbeth Ulrich Hansen will also be joining the conference from Denmark to provide guidance and lessons learned in group housing from the European perspective. Dr Hansen will host a producer workshop where she will provide guidance to producers on retrofitting barns using blueprints from their current operation.
Expanding knowledge of sow-housing systems
The goal of the Tri-State Housing Conference is to expand the knowledge of housing systems to producers and provide educational resources to make the transition from stalls to groups successful. It is the goal of the conference and the universities holding this conference to support swine producers with the guidance and information to continue to be economically successful by promoting positive animal welfare and management.