Open sow system push

Written by Ashlee McEvoy ASAS/ASAP Intern

The gestation stall was introduced in the 1970’s. The stall was used to prevent sows fighting amongst themselves and allow sows to receive individual care. Because of this, more live piglets were produced than what had been previously.

However today, the views on animal welfare have changed dramatically, forcing hog producers to change with them. Due to the demands of consumers and the push of animal welfare, the Canadian Code of Practice for the care and handling of pigs (2014), now require that as of the 1st of July, 2014, all new buildings and renovations must accommodate sows in group housing during gestation. It was also stated that existing buildings that do not undergo renovation may continue with stall operation, but must provide additional requirements for providing greater freedom as of July 1, 2024. More information on the Code of Practice can be found here.

Tom Parsons was a hog farmer before becoming a veterinarian and a professor in swine medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Parsons mentioned in an interview with The Western Producer after giving a talk at the Banff Pork Seminar in January that the drive to stop using gestation stalls was promoted by people with animal welfare on their minds.

“I think we have done a great job, but we’re still not there all the way,” he began.

“In some level, I think the animal welfare organizations just kind of wash their hands of all that and have left the industry to sort it out.

Parsons says that by convincing our consumers that the change is necessary, the change of the gestation stalls has been forced upon hog producers.

With this new change in open sow barns come several new challenges, including the transition and development of appropriate and efficient floor plans.

During Tom Parsons interview with The Western Producer, he made it clear that the successes of these changes will rely heavily on the people looking after it. By having people who are able to see a problem and make a change quickly in this new system will be a huge success in the production system

“You can gain more benefits from a pen gestation barn by having better levels of stockmanship,” Parsons mentions.

“I think people that like animals and enjoy interacting with animals, maybe even just simply this notion of having empathy for animals, I think are all attributes that are going to be helpful.”

Kevin Stuckey also supported these statements of Parsons. Stuckey is a sow division manager for Ohio-based Cooper Farms, who stated that sow production experience shouldn’t be considered a requirement for the job.

“It works, it’s just about how you manage it and it’s about the people you put in there,” Stuckey states in an interview with The Western Producer.

The other issue with the transition to open sow housing is the pen design. Mark Fynn, manager of animal care programs with Manitoba Pork was interviewed by The Western Producer also and stated that appropriate spacing and flooring are the biggest key factors in this transition.

Fynn recommended that 40% of the flooring be slatted, and sows need to be encouraged that this is the area for dung, and the other 60% are solid floors that will encourage the sows to rest. He also stated that pens will need to be designed to allow sows to escape and avoid conflict with other sows, especially when developing the social hierarchy. To make this planning more difficult, stocking density will need to be tested to find a correct balance and the spacing of feeders and water will need to considered due to potential sow conflict.

For more information on the push of open sow systems read these links:

The Western Producer – “Move from gestation stalls no silver bullet”

The Western Producer – “Start hog housing transition at ground level, says expert”

The Western Producer – “Open sow barns need good people in place”

Group Sow Housing