LRIC Research spotlight
How weaning sows directly into group housing affects their performance
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
Social stress from mixing sows can negatively affect their production and welfare. Housing sows in stalls from weaning until five weeks after breeding is a common strategy to manage the animals during the sensitive period around breeding and conception and prevent aggression.
However, as pressure to reduce stall use increases, it is important to identify alternative options. That was the impetus behind a research project looking at weaning sows directly into group housing, led by Dr. Yolande Seddon of the University of Saskatchewan, Jennifer Brown of the Prairie Swine Centre and the University of Minnesota’s Yuzhi Li.
The goal was to compare the effects of three mixing strategies on sow performance in the free access stall group sow housing system:
- early mixing (sows mixed directly at weaning)
- pre-socialization (sows mixed for two days at weaning, then stall housed until five weeks after breeding before being mixed again)
- late mixing (sows only mixed into groups at five weeks after breeding)
Overall, results showed that mixing aggression occurred at low levels and all mixing strategies in the study had similar aggression levels. Early mixed sows had similar or better production performance than pre-socialized or late mixed sows, meaning that mixing sows at weaning doesn’t have a negative impact on the animals if managed properly. Pre-socialization exposed sows to mixing aggression twice and did not result in production benefits.
According to Seddon, it’s important to note that the results can only be considered for the free access system at present and may not hold true if the feeding system creates a level of competition between sows, such as floor feeding or a heavily stocked electronic sow feeder. As well, while this trial showed no effects on sow lameness, pens housing sows during mixing should have good quality flooring to reduce injury.
John Van Engelen of Thedford has been weaning his sows together into a pre-mix pen for a year now. After four days in the pen they are moved into stalls for breeding. After another four days they are moved back into the pre-mix pen for another four or five days before entering the large group pen that house his dry sows.
“I’ve been doing this for over a year now and the aggression between sows has dropped by 90 per cent,” said Van Engelen.
A future renovation to expand his farrow to finish operation will incorporate freedom stalls engineered to allow for breeding in the pre-mix pen.
Key takeaways for producers from the study include:
- Group housing sows at weaning is a viable option under good management conditions e.g. no competition at feeding and the ability to ensure individual feed portions for sows.
- Sows weaned directly into groups indicated no negative production impacts and showed improved conception rates fewer still born piglets.
This research was supported by the National Pork Board with specific program funding for the Prairie Swine Centre provided by Sask Pork, Alberta Pork, Manitoba Pork Council, Ontario Pork and the Saskatchewan Agricultural and Food Development Fund.
This article is provided by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation as part of LRIC’s ongoing efforts to monitor and report on Canadian livestock research developments and outcomes.