Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

Pros and cons of new housing rules

Ciarn Carroll

From January 2013 onwards, Irish pig farmers must house dry sows and served gilts in groups.

A Teagasc analysis of the various group housing systems is now available to farmers. Entitled Towards January 2013: Updates, implications and options for group housing pregnant sows, it serves as a reference document for both producers switching to group housing and for those who have already converted.

Here is a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of the four main systems already in use in Ireland:

1. Electronic Sow Feeding


• Sows can be housed as a group but fed as individuals

• Sows are protected at feeding

• Sows can adopt an individual and flexible feeding pattern

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• There are functionally distinct places to feed, lie, drink and defecate/urinate


• Large social group (but sows adapt especially if subgroups are formed)

• Unstable dominance hierarchy -- group composition constantly changing as sows enter and leave the group so there can be problems with chronic aggression

• Some animals fail to learn how to use the feeder

• If transponders are lost, affected sows miss out on feeds

• Costly to install and potentially costly to maintain

• High reliance on computerised equipment. What to do in case of a breakdown?

• Requires very good stockpeople and a highly animal-orientated style of management

• Absolute necessity to train gilts to the system which requires time and patience

2. Finisher style long trough pens


• Sows can feed at the same time

• Cheap system to build and maintain thereafter

• Easy to manage and no need to train gilts


• Minimal space allowance combined with small area of shared space means there can be intense aggression at mixing and feeding

• No functionally distinct locations (lying, dunging) in the pen

• No protection or places to hide for subordinate sows and gilts which can lead to chronic stress

• High levels of sow wastage arising from lameness and reproductive failure

3. Free access stalls


• Sows can feed simultaneously and are protected at feeding

• Easy to manage and no need to train gilts

• Gilts/subordinate sows can protect themselves from aggression in the stalls

• Sows have some degree of choice as to where to lie. They can lie singly and protected in the stalls or communally in the slatted loose area

• There are functionally distinct locations in the pen -- specific place to eat and lie and because of this sows generally excrete at the back wall

• Stalls offer many surfaces to sows for supported lying


• Low area of shared, 'free' space leading to intense aggression at mixing

• Fully slatted flooring in loose area could lead to claw injuries

• Large amount of steel which is relatively costly

• Higher maintenance costs as steel depreciates

4. Floor feeding systems


• Cheap and low maintenance

• Easy to manage and no need to train gilts

• Sows can feed simultaneously

• There is a functionally distinct slatted dunging area along with a solid lying and feeding area


• Low area of shared space leading to intense aggression at mixing

• Intense competition at feeding. The area where sows are to rest is also the focus of intense aggression at feeding time

• No places to hide for subordinate sows and gilts which can lead to chronic stress

• Potentially high levels of sow wastage arising from stress induced reproductive failure

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