Normal production possible with group housing

Transition period | With proper management, productivity will rebound after initial culling to meet new space requirements

BANFF, Alta. — Switching to group housing shouldn’t affect hog producers’ long-term productivity, says a researcher with the Prairie Swine Centre.

Increased sow movement, depopulation and culling may affect producers at first, and production costs and management requirements can increase, Jennifer Brown told the recent Banff Pork Seminar.

However, she is confident producers can see a return to normal production levels through proper management.

“We expect that following transition there will be a return to normal production levels as management adjusts to this and barns repopulate,” Brown said.

“And in the longer term, productivity is going to depend largely on management and the system that’s been implemented.”

Retailers are demanding the elimination of confinement from their supply chains, and a new Canadian code of practice for pigs is coming this spring.

However, it remains unclear when producers will have to decide whether to build new barns or renovate or expand existing ones.

A draft of the Canadian pig code released last year required gilts and sows to be housed in groups by 2024, although that timeline is expected to change in the final version.

The draft code also said barn re-builds and new projects must adopt group housing by July 1, 2014. Its release drew widespread opposition from producers, receiving thousands of submissions during a public comment period.

“While the process and the timing of this change may remain uncertain, I believe the change is definitely coming,” said Brown.

She said the current trend in the United States is to expand barns to meet the space requirements for group housing. However, older barns may have to be rebuilt, depending on their layout, condition and electrical and ventilation systems.

A U.S. project recommended that facilities older than 21 years be rebuilt.

The European Union has minimum requirements are 18 sq. foot per gilt and 24 sq. for sows.

The recommendations in Canada’s draft pig code were smaller: 15 to 18 sq. feet for gilts and 19 to 24 for sows on a partially slatted floor. Brown said too little space is not an option.

“We know that 16 sq. feet per adult sow is insufficient and 24 sq. feet is definitely adequate,” said Brown.

“We haven’t done a lot of research looking at allowances in between that.”

Producers will also have to choose between competitive feeding systems, such as floor feeding and shoulder stalls and ones that allow for individual feeding, such as electronic sow feeding and free access stall systems.

Brown urged caution with competitive systems because they re-quire extra management and higher feed costs.

Researchers at the Prairie Swine Centre and the University of Manitoba have developed an application to outline conversion options for producers.

It considers facility dimensions, infrastructure and pig numbers and provides floor plans, feeding system options and a cost estimate.

The first phase of the project ran simulations on two hog barns: one in Saskatchewan and the other in Manitoba.

Brown said the Saskatchewan simulation allowed 22 sq. feet per animal for the 2,500 sows housed in the facility.

Only the free access feeding system required a reduction in herd size.

The dynamic electronic sow feeding system came with a conversion price tag of $2.5 million, but at $839.70 per sow it was competitive with the other options, accommodating 2,932 animals.

“A lot of stall systems are getting to the end of their useful life and so a lot of producers will be looking to do something with their barns in the next 10 years or so. If you consider the cost of replacing stalls, then you’re not looking at a big difference between implementing a group housing system versus replacing your stall system,” said Brown.

“That should help defray some of the expenses to producers if they’re actually going to have to make an investment anyway.”

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