The importance of individualized care

Pregnant sows require individualized care throughout their gestation period. Sows have special nutrition requirements and need daily monitoring and evaluation. Farm personnel take steps to minimize exposure to disease or disease carriers to protect the health of sows and their piglets. There are many different housing designs used to provide for the well-being of the gestating sow. These housing designs usually fit in one of two categories:

  • Individual housing which includes the individual stall system. In this system, sows are housed in a stall large enough for one sow to stand up and lie down. There are several variations in stall designs.
  • Group housing which includes various systems such as free access stalls, trickle feeding and electronic sow feeding stations to name a few. Group sizes may range from five sows per pen up to more than 100 sows per pen.

Each housing design has unique advantages and disadvantages for the well-being of the sow.

Advantages of individual and group housing

In individual housing systems, sows are housed in a structure large enough for one sow, though the design varies. The advantages of individual housing systems are that they minimize sow aggression and injury, reduce competition for resources, allow individual feeding and nutritional management, help manage each sow’s body condition and reduce worker injuries; however, they also restrict movement and exercise, ability to perform foraging behaviors, and limit social interaction between sows. In group sow housing, sows move about more freely and have social interactions with their pen mates. However, farmers may find it challenging to ensure each sow receives the proper individualized nutrition, minimize aggression and injury among sows. Foraging behavior may also be limited in group housing if no manipulable materials are present.

Each housing design has unique advantages and disadvantages for the well-being of the sow.
Currently, it is the position of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians and the American Veterinary Medical Association that both individual sow housing and group housing have advantages and disadvantages, and what really matters is the individual care given to each pig. Pig farmers believe that decisions about the best way to care for sows must be based primarily on sound science and input from veterinary experts. Whether a given farm uses group housing or individual housing for sows, most experts agree that what really matters is the individual care given to each pig.

How farmers choose a housing system

Given a number of state laws, some farmers are legally required to convert to group housing during gestation. While other farmers may choose a housing system based the needs of their pigs, the facilities they have available, and the marketplace to which they sell their pigs. There are countless design options for housing gestating sows and each of these options have advantages and disadvantages for the gestating sow. Through years of research, several factors have been identified that can impact the success of any housing system design. These factors include how and when feed is delivered, how and when sow groups are formed, floor space allocation and group sizes, genetics, and whether an existing barn is being remodeled or a new barn is being built.

To further our understanding of the best way to ensure sow well-being, farmers have been proactive in supporting efforts to advance animal well-being. Long-standing, national programs are in place to provide training in proper animal care. National organizations provide significant funding to research animal care practices, specifically on the issue of sow housing. Farmers have invested more than $2 million in swine-housing research and an additional $4.6 million in general research to improve animal well-being. Farming methods are always evolving. As new insights about sow housing emerge, farmers will continue to make responsible decisions to provide good care to sows.

National Pork Board Statement

“The National Pork Board builds its animal care and well-being programs on this foundation: What is best for the pig? The board also relies on the best scientific research available, and the best scientific research now available indicates there are several types of production systems that can be good for pigs. Those systems include open pens, gestation stalls and open pastures.”

“Regardless of the system, what really matters is the individual care given to each pig.”

“Through the Pork Checkoff, the National Pork Board provides educational programs and materials that focus on how producers can best assure the well-being of their pigs. These programs offer methods that help producers take an objective look at each animal’s well-being, independent of the size of operation or the specific type of housing. Producers are then able to decide for themselves the type of production system that is best for their animals, and for them given their resources and markets.”

Wayne Peugh
Past President, National Pork Board