Pregnant sows require individualized care throughout their gestation period. Sows have special nutrition requirements and need daily monitoring and evaluation. Steps are taken to minimize exposure to disease or disease carriers to protect the health of sows and their piglets.
Choosing the right sow housing system for your operation depends on the needs of your pigs, the facilities available, how your pigs are marketed, and for many, legal requirements.
Given a number of state laws, some producers are legally required to convert to group housing during gestation.
Options for creating the right housing for gestating sows are numerous — and include weighing pros and cons. No matter what works best for your operation, research shows that there are several factors that can impact the success of your housing system. Those factors include:
- How and when feed is delivered
- How and when sow groups are formed
- Floor space allocation
- Group sizes
- If the barn is being remodeled or a new barn is being built
What Matters Most
According to the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), individual pig care is more important than the type of housing used on a farm. Decisions about the best way to care for sows must be based on sound science and input from veterinary experts. Whether a given farm uses group housing or individual housing for sows, individual pig care is what matters most.
Two Types of Sow Housing Systems
- Individual Housing System
In this system, sows are housed in a large stall so they can stand up and lie down.
This system minimizes sow aggression and injury, reduces competition for resources, allows for individual feeding and nutritional management, helps manage each sow’s body condition and reduce worker injuries.
However, individual housing systems also restrict movement and exercise, ability to perform foraging behaviors, and limit social interaction between sows.
- Group Housing System
Group housing for pregnant sows is defined as a housing environment for more than one sow where, after confirmed pregnant, they have the ability to lie down and stand up unimpeded and to turn around.
This includes various systems such as free access stalls, trickle feeding and electronic sow feeding stations.
Group sizes may range from five sows per pen up to more than 100 sows per pen. In group sow housing, sows move about more freely and have social interactions with their pen mates.
However, farmers may find it challenging to ensure each sow receives the proper individualized nutrition, minimize aggression and injury among sows.
Foraging behavior may also be limited in group housing if no manipulable materials are present.