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Tri-State Sow Housing Conference (part II)

Bit by bit, the US swine business is converting to group housing for gestating sows, as welfare expert Dr Monique Pairis-Garcia notes. She is actively involved in organising the 2nd edition of the Tri-State Sow Housing Conference and casts a look ahead here.

The Tri-State Sow Housing Conference is to be held on February 13th in Columbus, OH, United States. This will be the 2nd time in which the Conference will be held, following a very successful event in 2016 with over 220 attendees.

24% of US sow herd has transitioned

Sow housing is still a very hot topic in the swine industry given it is estimated that only 24% of the US sow herd has transitioned to open pen gestation. Smithfield Foods/WH Group, the largest pork producer and the first company to commit to group housing systems for gestating sows has just announced that they have fulfilled their commitment to convert all company owned farms to open pen gestation (see this 360-degree video). This conversion resulted in an estimated investment of over $ 350 million.

Gestating sows kept in large groups at Fair Oaks Farms, IN, United States. Photo: Vincent ter Beek
Gestating sows kept in large groups at Fair Oaks Farms, IN, United States. Photo: Vincent ter Beek

However, the transition is half the battle. Understanding how to care for and manage animals in a group system is just as important. Given this, this year’s conference will focus on management strategies for group housing systems.

Speakers from a variety of backgrounds

Speakers lined up for the full day educational event come from a variety of backgrounds. Dr Tom Parsons and Dr Meghann Pierdon will be joining the group from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine.

 Impression of the first Sow Housing Conference in Ohio in 2016. Photo: Monique Pairis-Garcia
Impression of the first Sow Housing Conference in Ohio in 2016. Photo: Monique Pairis-Garcia

Dr Parsons will focus on the importance of proper caretaker training as a key factor in the success of group housing systems, an area often overlooked as one makes the transition to group housing. Dr Pierdon will discuss strategies to reduce lameness during the mixing process, with a focus on changing the environment and feeding schedule to alter sow behaviour.

Industry stakeholders delivering insight

The conference will also provide opportunities for the industry stakeholders to deliver insight and perspective on sow housing systems. Dr Jessica Risser, animal health and welfare manager of Country View Family Farms will provide an industry update on the conversion of sow housing and what this may mean for the 2018 production year.

A trade show accompanied the first Sow Housing Conference in Ohio in 2016. Photo: Monique Pairis-Garcia
A trade show accompanied the first Sow Housing Conference in Ohio in 2016. Photo: Monique Pairis-Garcia

Mike Fagan with Win-Win will provide producers with practical tips to consider when constructing new or retrofitted group housing facilities. Last, but certainly not least, the conference will end with gaining insight from Ohio pork producers. Ben Pitstick and Iain Harris from Fine Swine will focus on lessons learned with group housing in a new facility while Matt Davis from Hord Livestock will focus on lessons learned in a retrofitted facility.

Support and resources for swine producers

Overall, it is anticipated that this conference will again provide the support and resources for swine producers to transition group housing and optimise production management practices for group housed facilities.

Pre-registration for the conference is now open. A pre-registration fee of $ 25 for the sow housing conference or $ 50 pre-registration fee for the attendance of the Sow Housing Conference and Ohio Pork Congress. Pre-registration closes on January 26th. Registration can be completed through Ohio Pork Council, 59239 Sharon Woods Blvd, Ste. 101. Columbus, OH 43229, United States.

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