3 WAYS TO DESIGN PIG HOUSING THAT PROMOTES WELFARE
An investment in designing pig housing that promotes the welfare of your pigs will pay off in many ways. Since converting to group housing in 2016, Taaibosch Piggery has seen many benefits. Among the benefits we have observed are healthier sows with fewer injuries, stronger piglets, and better litter weights.
Here are 3 ways we have designed our housing to promote the welfare of our pigs:
1. GROUP PIG HOUSING
Allowing our sows to exhibit natural social behaviors as well as creating a safe and stress-free environment contributes greatly to their welfare. We achieve this through group housing. So what is group housing?
Sow or gilt group housing is where pregnant sows/gilts are housed in groups instead of single crates. Group housing is very advantageous as it allows sows to be social, active, and they can forage and nest if desired. We also provide hay in some group housing as foraging feed and nesting material.
Once a group is established, that group will stay together until they move to the farrowing houses. This eliminates any unnecessary stress and creates a peaceful gestation period.
At Taaibosch, we converted to group housing in 2016 and have seen only benefits. We have observed healthier sows with fewer injuries, stronger piglets, and better litter weights. Although the requirement in South Africa is to keep sows in group housing only for 8 weeks, we have chosen to have our sows in group housing for the full 16 weeks of gestation, following European standards. Service crates are used for insemination and sows are usually moved on the second day of insemination.
Our group housing which consists of small groups has single crates in the corner, and these are only used to treat or isolate a sow in case of illness or injury to ensure a safe space for an ill or injured sow, and to allow easy access for the sow to be treated.
Groups work best as either small (about 8-10 in a group), or very big (50 or more sows in a group). This is because pigs will always have a hierarchy. In a small group, it is easy to establish a hierarchy. In a very big group, hierarchy is not as important as there is enough space for a less dominant sow or gilt to disappear or hide from the dominant sows.
In our opinion, groups of 10-50 don’t work as well because there is constant fighting as pigs try to establish a hierarchy, and not enough space for smaller sows to hide. Just consider the dynamics at a dinner table of a group of close friends, a large group of acquaintances, and a commercial restaurant.
2. VENTILATION IN PENS
We ensure an optimal environment for our pigs through careful planning of our pens. Ventilation is a very important factor in pig pen planning. Ventilation done correctly ensures optimal temperature, humidity, and air quality in the pens. Therefore, each pen is designed by an agricultural engineer to ensure optimal airflow for comfortable living conditions.
When there isn't adequate ventilation, or there is incorrect ventilation in a pen, it can cause discomfort as well as health and growth problems in pigs. Pigs can develop respiratory illnesses when ventilation is poor. It can also affect their behavior in the pen. They will be stressed, fight more easily, and there will be tail biting and/or defecating anywhere (instead of keeping a clean living environment with segregated areas, which pigs do when in an ideal environment).
You can either use natural or mechanical ventilation. We have both on our farms but prefer the natural ventilation as we have found it works best in South Africa’s climate, and it is also a lot more environmentally friendly than mechanical ventilation. Natural ventilation is achieved through a seemingly simple system run by technology. Pens are planned and designed for optimal airflow and then sensors are used to determine how big or small the window openings should be. The sensors continuously trigger the window closures to either open or close and be in the correct place for optimal ventilation. This ensures a comfortable temperature in the pens.
3. PIG HOUSING: PEN LAYOUT
The pen layout plays a big part in satisfying a pig’s natural behavioural tendencies, as well as enabling positive social interaction.
We’ve said it many times - when pigs are provided an ideal home, they are one of the cleanest animals because they naturally create designated eating, sleeping, and defecating areas. Designing a pen to aid this natural behaviour is important for keeping your pigs happy.
Water nipples should be located close to the feeders, but also with enough space so that pigs can easily access them whilst others are feeding. Allow for ample slatted flooring for defecating areas (away from feeding and sleeping areas).
Provide solid flooring under feeders as well as in the sleeping area. Weaners generally prefer warm lights and a kennel cover in the sleeping area which aids overall well-being and efficient growth.