Pregnant sows may be sheltered in a variety of housing designs during their gestational period; however, three main categories lead the industry:
1. Gestation stalls
2. Group pens
3. Free range
While each housing approach has pros and cons, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Animal Welfare Division states the chosen option should encompass guidelines that mirror Professor Roger Brambell’s Five Freedoms, which include:
- Provide every animal access to appropriate food and water
- Promote good air quality and allow proper sanitation
- Protect sows from environmental extremes
- Reduce exposure to hazards or conditions that result in injuries, pain, distress, fear, or disease
- Provide sows with adequate quality and quantity of space that allows sows to assume normal postures and express normal patterns of behavior
The AVMA also states the housing system selected should allow for the observation of individual sows to assess their welfare.
Advantages and Disadvantages
There are advantages and disadvantages to any sow housing system and the benefits and harms to the animals of each should be considered by evaluating science and professional judgment.
Consider the following examples of the three main housing systems:
1. Gestation stall systems minimize aggression and injury, reduce competition and allow individual feeding and nutritional management; however they restrict normal behavioral expression.
2. Group housing systems are less restrictive but could lead to increased lameness and undesirable social behaviors, such as aggression and competition for resources (e.g., feed, water, space to lie down).
3. Free range systems allow sows access to more space thus reducing aggression however sows with outdoor access tend to have more parasites, and they can be exposed to extreme weather conditions. The AVMA says more research is needed to better understand and meet the welfare needs of gestating sows. The organization also advocates ongoing animal handling training for employees working with pregnant sows, as training is critical to ensure employees are able to provide and promote good welfare within the management system used.
To further compare each option’s advantages and disadvantages as outlined by the AVMA, please click here.