Common Sense On Call: Sow groups – Be careful!

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Paul Meers I recently visited two clients with farrow-to-finish operations in eastern Nebraska. Both clients are using older, circa 1970 units with pen gestation. These two, like many others, have undergone extensive and repeated remodeling over the years. I now refer to these older units as “state of the art,” as the industry tries to reconcile the impending gestation crate demise.

One client was still farrowing weekly and the reason for my involvement was to facilitate a process to switch to group farrowing. Large grouping of like-age pigs has become a pig health necessity as larger and modern nursery and finishing has been added. The key to making this switch is to make sure enough dedicated labor is available for a very intense week. Washing all of the crates, breeding five times the sows, and processing five times the pigs all in a 10-day span can be overwhelming. I have been involved in numerous switches like this and once the labor pool gets used to the change, they like the two weeks of “slack time” much more than the regular weekly grind and they never want to go back!

A huge drawback to group farrowing is the safety factor. Picture 10 – 500 lb. sows in a pen together with an employee, AI rods and semen at ready, along with a teaser boar four or five days after weaning! This is a very dangerous setting to say the least.

Visiting my other client on this trip, I found that his latest remodel had included enough breeding crates to house one weaning. The safety factor had hit home with him and his employees. Time spent for insemination was reduced, thus trumping some worker fatigue. The main point is the work place is much SAFER.

As the industry phases in sow groups this safety factor will be paramount and the remedy is the use of breeding crates.

Anyone know where some can be purchased?

Paul Meers Swine Consulting LLC
The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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Arnold L. Goldman DVM, MPH    
Connecticut  |  April, 18, 2014 at 09:16 AM

What will the industry do when the activists come back and argue that breeding crates are inhumane? I remain unconvinced that appeasement will solve the image issue. Instead I think direct PR to the incoming millennial generation, especially digitally oriented methods, would be very useful in overcoming the opposition's marketing. Anyone have a spare million to spend on NYC's Madison Avenue?

Paul Meers    
Missouri  |  April, 18, 2014 at 10:14 AM

Thanks for the comment. I agree some aggressive advertising is needed to support our FOOD PRODUCTION business. Perhaps pictures of starving children world wide with additional pounds of pork available for export. HSUS has no problem showing dogs and cats in starvation and mistreatment. Time for some adjustment of funds from NPPC?


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