Fully slatted-floor finishing systems – should these be banned?

28-03-2007 | |
David Burch Pig health

There are moves within the EU to ban fully slatted-floor systems for finishers, as they are considered bad for a pig’s welfare for several reasons. A possible alternative, partially slatted floors, are in many people’s experiences worst of both systems. Maybe it’s a matter of management?

An excellent report was produced and published on the EFSA website last year on the welfare of rearing pigs in relation to different space allowances and floor types (over 130 pages). It covers many aspects of pig’s welfare and husbandry and clearly demonstrates that no system is without its faults.

There are moves within the EU to ban fully slatted-floor systems for finishers, as they are considered bad for a pig’s welfare by being uncomfortable and potentially increasing leg problems, tail-biting and are a relatively barren environment for pigs to express their normal behaviour of rooting etc.

Producers are not providing sufficient enrichment materials but it is difficult in slatted-floor systems because the materials can block the slats or drop through.

Trial data
Recent UK trial data (Scott e.a. 2006) comparing straw-bedded and fully-slatted pens for keeping pigs, showed there was a lower incidence of pig removals caused by tail biting in the straw-bedded pigs (1.4% to 11.7%) also lameness was lower (3.9% to 7.4%) but there was a much higher incidence of wasting associated with PMWS (12.9% to 4.7).

Overall, there was a mortality and removal rate of 32.3% in the straw-bedded pens and 33.6% in the fully-slatted pens, both would be considered high but overall both are very similar.

Suitable alternatives
So what are they considering as suitable alternatives? Partially-slatted floors are thought to be the ideal compromise, as they offer easy dung removal and improved comfort.

In many people’s experiences, however, they are the worst of both systems, not the best.

In hot weather the pigs soil the lying area and wallow during the day and get chilled at night. In under-ventilated or over-ventilated conditions they also soil the lying area. I have seen producers rip these systems out and replace them with fully-slatted floors to overcome the pneumonia and production problems.

These problems could be argued as poor environmental control and house design but often one is left to manage a system that is provided.

EFSA report
In the EFSA report it shows, in the EU countries surveyed in the 1990s, 47% of pigs are finished on partially-slatted floors, 44% on fully-slatted floors and 9% on solid floors, with or without straw and other bedding.

I have borrowed a quote from an old friend, Mark White, a UK consultant vet that sums up the issue “let’s stop worrying about systems and start concentrating on management” – let’s hope the regulators take note of this advice and don’t disrupt nearly half the pig production in Europe.

What do you think?