An option to gestation crates
To the editor,
The issue of gestation crates versus group housing discussed in Farm News has not mentioned the option of computerized sow feeding systems.
These systems combine the benefits of group housing and individual feeding. The sow has a computerized ID ear tag that allows her to be fed a customized ration when she enters the feeding stall.
We are able to mix sows and gilts because once the pecking order is established there is very little agressive behavior. The boss sows eat first and the timid ones later.
Usually, even lame or injured females can stay with the group because they still have the opportunity to eat.
If we put sows back into the group housing at weaning, torn nipples and vulvas are very rare. We do allow plenty of laying space and bedding, though.
As far as temperature differences between the farrowing house and gestation/breeding barn, we don’t have many problems since bedding is deep and plentiful in our converted cattle shed. But, computerized sow feeding systems can be incorporated into confinement barns with controled temps, too.
The computerized feed system takes more management than gestation stalls and typical group housing. Training the females to eat in the stall takes time and patience.
Computerized feed records and the herd needs to be checked daily to make sure a sow isn’t injured, sow body conditions are optimal, and a sow hasn’t lost her ID tag.
We’ve had our feeding stalls for more than 20 years and there are pluses and minuses of the system.
Positives for the sows – they are in a more natural environment with room to move and can be fed the optimum ration. Excellent mothers can stay in the herd when we add replacement gilts.
A negative for the human – it takes more management skills and time.
I often wonder if the defense of the gestation stalls is more for the benefit of the humans than the sows.