Sow housing has been a much debated topic in the pork industry for several years. There are many choices for producers, but there are major considerations when it comes time to decide on altering pre-existing facilities.

Last week at World Pork Expo a session was held during the PORK Academy that was sponsored by the Pork Checkoff. The session gave an overview of the quandaries surrounding sow housing and results that have been seen in previous studies.

Here are some of the key points that were taken away from the sow housing session:

  • Producers need to think like a pig to make sow housing work
  • Sows are not stupid, they can be trained
  • Producers also have to think of how easy the facility will work for them
  • When considering bedding (i.e. straw, sawdust, etc) producers have to think about cleaning the pens later
  • The first thing producer need to think about when looking at group housing is the cost
  • If two sows run into a cafeteria style stall then it will be a problem getting the sows out and making sure they received adequate feed
  • When sows are put together on the first day they will on average spend less than 10 minutes fighting
  • If group housing producers should use an electronic sow feeder
  • When utilizing electronic sow feeders a producer will receive digital information letting them know which sows are eating well and if they need to intervene
  • In an electronic sow feeding system producers do not have to be present to find out if sows are eating
  • It is difficult to fit electronic sow feeders into existing facilities
  • In the long run it may be cheaper to build a new facility to group house sows
  • Most sows are in crates right now, which is pretty good welfare because producers can care for them individually
  • One system is not going to work for everybody

While a clear consensus was not made as to which system is the best the Pork Checkoff has created a Sow Housing Calculator to help producers in making an informed business decision.

“Pork producers have many options available to them, each with its own cost and benefit,” says Chris Novak, National Pork Board CEO. “The new Sow Housing Calculator will help producers look at the facility and management choices that are best for them and the pigs in their care.”

The Sow Housing Calculator is available free of charge to producers online.