The move to group housing for sows, which is mandated in the new pig code of practice, presents practical considerations for hog producers.
Will sows have higher energy re-quirements if they are more mobile? Will their nutritional needs or productivity vary? Will their carcass condition change?
Research scientists are exploring these and other considerations at the Prairie Swine Centre near Saskatoon.
One of them, Denise Beaulieu, shared some of the results April 2 with swine producers in Lethbridge.
A show of hands indicated no one in the room was contemplating immediate conversion of hog barns to open housing. Producers have 10 years to make the conversion, al-though all new barns must have open sow housing as of July 1 to be in compliance with the code.
“Sows spend 80 percent of their time lying down, regardless of housing, and we want that,” said Beaulieu.
“We want them to eat and lie down. This is the ideal situation.”
Data indicates that pigs use more energy while standing than do sheep and cows. Sows that spend more than four hours per day standing will require more food energy than those who stand less.
Electronic feeding systems may require sows to walk more to eat, and hunger-related aggression is also a factor in group situations that might increase energy needs per sow.
Beaulieu said increasing fibre in the sow diet promotes feelings of satiety, reducing fights over food and en-couraging the animals to lie down.
She referred to European studies that found that sows on high-fibre diets spend less time sitting, standing or exploring.
A study that added ground wheat straw to sow diets also showed potential for improved reproductive performance.
Fermentable feed, such as sugar beet pulp or pea fibre, is more effective at improving satiety and decreasing sow activity, according to Beaulieu’s data.
New guidelines also recommend “phase feeding” for sows, which means different rations at different times in the gestation cycle.
Increasing feed per day as farrowing nears is common, said Beaulieu, but changing both amount and diet composition to suit the maturity of the sow and the stage of gestation would be ideal. This isn’t possible in all feeding systems and might be more difficult in group housing situations.
As well, it can be more difficult to gauge individual sow condition when in groups.
“One of the challenges when we move into groups is monitoring body condition score,” said Beaulieu.
Weighing animals and using ultrasound are good tools, though not always available.
She recommended calipers as another way to determine sow body condition.
Calipers are also useful when training new barn employees how to gauge body condition.