September 26, 2023
By Casey L. Bradley, Ph.D.
The recent ruling out of the Supreme Court on California’s Prop 12 initiative has created a firestorm within the U.S. swine industry. The industry plans to fight similar state laws through different legislative measures. Still, it has a long road ahead to mitigate the new requirements for swine production out of California.
Producers are concerned on several fronts, from remodeling to meet the requirements to what is the next piece of legislation that will require further changes. While some facilities could easily become Prop 12 compliant today with a herd reduction, many producers are still contemplating their remodeling options.
Moving to group housing
Sow group housing is not a new concept for the swine industry, but there was a good reason for the industry to move from outdoor production and group housing into gestation crates. However, today’s systems and caretakers have evolved into efficient systems with facilities to optimize space and the number of sows per employee. Through the use of gestation crates, producers could implement artificial insemination, consistent wean groups, and optimal husbandry, which led to substantial improvements in sow reproduction.
Recent research (Morgan et al., 2018) refuted previous research to suggest that transitioning out of the gestation crate back into group housing was able to lower non-productive days, improve the conception rate, and a tendency to improve total born. In this trial, injuries and lameness indexes were significantly higher during the transitionary period but receded to normal levels after approximately five weeks.
Despite the pros and cons of group housing, Prop 12 puts another complexity of converting from gestation crates into group housing. The proposition requires 24 square feet per breeding animal, and unlike other laws, the sows cannot be confined more than six hours in 24 hours.
The square footage requirements of Prop 12 would require producers to reduce their herds by a third or add additional structures to maintain current inventories. Either option creates substantial financial implications for producers. Furthermore, the lack of gestation crates to breed sows efficiently with current A.I. techniques is challenging, which has resulted in different housing solutions. In Michigan, for example, producers can house sows in gestation crates after weaning until confirmed pregnant at 30 days of gestation.
Best of both worlds
Free access stalls are one of the innovations that have created an excellent compromise, bringing together the best of both worlds for swine producers to meet Prop 12 requirements while utilizing a stall environment for feeding, breeding, and individual sow treatments and observations. Many of these solutions have a cantilever-style gate, but they require complete stall replacement and often include a lot of moving parts that are noisy and can break easily.
However, many of these issues have been addressed in the latest free access stall solutions, such as the Swing-Fix Gate from PigTek. It limits the need for replacement parts and creates a durable option for equipment longevity. The system is designed to attach to current gestation crates and allows the producer to lock in a sow individually or in groups of 25. It helps producers reduce the financial investment of remodeling. Another design feature is an A.I. gate option that allows easy access for the breeders.
Consumer demand and future legislation will continue to move the industry toward group housing. Thus, the latest free access stalls create the best of both worlds while considering the needs of the caretakers and the sows.
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