Minnesota swine veterinarian Brad Leuwerke of the Swine Vet Center at St. Peter says today’s pork producers are successfully using a variety of gestation stall and pen configurations.
Managing sows in gestation stalls is a known commodity. Pen gestation brings with it a different set of management issues, many of which have no clear solution (a reason why producers turned to gestation stalls 30 years ago). He advises producers to follow these rules to maximize sow productivity:
1. The ability of a farm’s staff to effectively manage the challenges posed by pen gestation will determine its success.
2. Wean sows to stalls for heat checking and breeding.
3. Plan for at least 35 days in a stall before penning to allow for implantation, heat check and individual feeding of sows.
4. With static groups (groups having no more females added from time of penning to farrowing), use small pens (less than 10), which allows for convenient barn flow and efficient use of barn space.
5. Conduct a pregnancy check prior to penning so only pregnant sows are put into pens.
6. Fill pens based on weight, parity and size.
7. Manage feeding to reduce stress.
To reduce fighting, provide individual feeding spaces with solid dividers deep enough that sows cannot see each other while eating.
8. Not all sows are meant to be housed in pens. This includes thin, overly dominant and sick or lame females. These sows should remain in stalls for the entirety of gestation. An additional 15% of sow stalls will be needed for this.
9. Immediately move any sow that shows difficulty holding up in a pen environment to a stall.
10. Routinely assess where fallout occurs in order to implement corrective measures.
A number of different forms of pen gestation exist among Swine Vet Center’s clients. Each is unique in how sows are housed and managed each day. The producers who have become really successful with pen gestation have identified the stressors that exist in their pen gestation systems and adapted by making the changes necessary to maintain the level of productivity and sow care they are used to.
Leuwerke says two big areas that influence a sow’s daily contentment are pen design and how she is fed.
“Until we have some good studies that say what works best, we have to rely on strong observational skills to develop systems that will work well for each farm situation,” he says.