Animal scientists at Purdue University studied the impact of group housing for pregnant gilts on their weight and skin health.

There was no overall effect on the amount of weight that the gilts gained during gestation, nor did overall gilt weights differ by housing method, according to the research. There were no differences in backfat measurement between gilts housed in stalls and those kept in groups.

Skin health between gilts assigned to stalls or groups was similar at the time the females were transferred to gestation. From 21 days to 91 days after breeding, body skin health was consistently poorer in group-housed gilts than in stall-housed gilts. At 91 days, the feet and legs of gilts housed in groups were also in significantly poorer condition than those of stall-housed animals.

These results show no difference in production between gilts housed during their first pregnancy in stalls or those in small groups. Group-housed females had more scratches, cuts and wounds on their head, face and body than gilts in stalls. While some lesions were the result of aggression between group members, injuries also were caused by individuals being stepped on or coming in contact with sharp pen fittings. These accidental wounds also may have contributed to the higher lesion scores on the feet and legs of group-housed females.

Researchers point out that it's important to remember that the results apply only to the particular housing systems evaluated. Stalls were generously sized, particularly for gilts, and findings may have been different had smaller stalls or older sows been used. Larger groups, those using bedding and/or a different feeding method may affect production and well-being differently, say the researchers. Ultimately, more study is needed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn.