The University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center (SROC) at Waseca has evaluated three years of sow records to compare performance of individual gestation stalls and group housing with electronic feeding stations.
Electronic feeding stations allow for individual control of feed intake within a group pen system housing 50-60 sows/pen.
Sow culling rate was higher in stalls, while mortality rates were greater in group pens. More females were removed for feet and leg problems when housed in group pens vs. stalls.
“We have noticed that group-housed sows are easier to move and show less fear of people than crated sows,” states Roger Walker, animal scientist at SROC and co-investigator. “They have better body condition overall, but since they are allowed to interact with each other in the pens, they may also express aggression toward each other.”
Subsequent research also examined farrowing performance over a nine-month period. Sows gestated in group pens with electronic sow feeders were heavier at weaning, and had larger litter birth and weaning weights, compared to sows gestated in stalls.
Though group pens are seen as being more welfare-friendly, the larger number culled for locomotor problems points to a welfare issue that must be addressed, he notes.