Researchers at the University of Manitoba indicate that sows housed in groups on straw tend to perform better than those housed in conventional slatted floor systems. The estimation was made from an animal welfare perspective.

Research at the University of Manitoba's National Centre for Livestock and the Environment is comparing sows housed in conventional slated floor facilities to those housed in groups on straw. The two groups use the same genetics and are managed similarly.

Laurie Connor, animal science professor, says scientists are tracking several performance parameters. Among them are longevity, joint health, lameness and body condition scores, culling rates, litter sizes, born alives, deads as well as weaning weights.

 “We do tend to get a slightly larger litter size, similar born alives but slightly different in weaning numbers, weaning weights, slightly more from the group that have been from sows that have been on straw throughout all of gestation,” says Connor. “In the conventional system, more sows are culled within the same period of time, most often associated with leg problems, joint problems, not so much in terms of things like body condition.

Connor says the straw based system requires additional labor but those costs may be offset by reduced medication and culling costs. She notes it is too early to make specific recommendations but further details of the work will be made public by early 2009.