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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