The future of animal housing

February 02, 2017

pig group housing

It’s always difficult for someone who is analytical and science-minded to view farming practices through the lens of someone who sees it from more of an emotional standpoint. But I will say that everything we do is in the best interest of the animal and the consumer. And we continue to improve our practices as we try to balance the two.

I think that applies to the recent push for a transition from gestation stalls to group housing. There are certainly pros and cons to both.


Gestation stalls: Pros & cons

Stalls provide individualized care, feeding and watering for sows. We know at the end of the day whether that sow ate, drank and expressed healthy behaviors – and if she didn’t, we can quickly figure out how to solve the problem. The con is the lack of ability to turn around in a stall and express normal social behaviors.

Group sow housing: Pros & cons

On the flip side, group housing allows sows to turn around and express those social behaviors. But as a part of that socializing, these sows – which weigh about 500 pounds and are surprisingly athletic – have to establish a hierarchy. So when they’re co-mingled, you’ll have injured feet and legs, injured backs and a higher incident of mortality in these systems.

Regardless, farmers are moving to group housing. And I think that’s a challenge we’ve taken on very well. We’re coming up with new and innovative ways to decrease sow-to-sow aggression. We’re creating cool technologies where we know if a sow finished her meal that day. And some systems will sort those sows that aren’t eating. When she leaves it’ll send her to a “loafing area,” where several times a day employees check why they’re there and whether they need attention.

The farmer impact

This transition is very expensive – I think that’s what everyone should know. Especially if you have an established farm, and then you’re told you need to convert to group housing by a certain time, or you won’t be able to sell your pigs. So you absorb 100% of those costs as a farmer, or you go out of business. As a society, we can’t afford to put farmers out of business – not with more mouths to feed on the same or lesser amount of land.

Just like any other industry, ours will continue to evolve and make improvements. And as always, at the forefront of everything we do is the balance of what’s best for our animals, and what’s best for you, the consumer.

 

Wesley Lyons, DVM

Dr. Wesley Lyons is currently a veterinarian at Bethany Swine Health Services in Sycamore, IL. He started in mixed animal practice for a few months with his father, Dr. Chuck Lyons, before joining Pig Improvement Company as a Health Assurance Veterinarian.

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