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Sow Housing: What Are My Options for Farrowing and Gestation?

by 5m Editor
25 June 2007, at 12:00am

By Dr. Anna Butters-Johnson, Assistant Professor Iowa State University. This article is from a collection of papers presented at the 2007 North Carolina Pork Conference.

1. Introduction

The modern pork producer must wear multiple hats; they need to be a steward of their animals and land, they have to make a profit and weather tough economical climates, they must continue to have an appreciation of technological advancements being made in swine health, nutrition and manufacturing goods, and be cognizant of the politics which could threaten the way that they have traditionally farmed.

One metamorphic area within North America over the past 10 years has been a renewed and passionate interest in farm animal welfare throughout the entire production chain from humane; Humane Society of the United States [HSUS], Animal Welfare Institute [AWI] and Humane Farm Animal Care [HFAC]) animal rights; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA], Animal Liberation Front [ALF], the producer; National Pork Board [NPB] and the National Pork Producers Council [NPPC], and marketing groups; Food Marketing Institute [FMI] and National Council of Chain Restaurants [NCCR].

Welfare initiatives in place today range from on farm assessment programs (Swine Welfare Assurance Program), certification programs (Free Farmed and Certified Humane – Raised and Handled by Humane Farm Animal Care) and marketing guidelines (FMI and NCCR). To complicate matters further, numerous legislative actions (Florida and Arizona) and past and current legal challenges (California, Colorado, Maryland and New Jersey) are being directed towards the pork industry at varying success.

Internationally, since 2003 the global welfare community has begun efforts to formulate and agree upon standard welfare guidelines through the Office International des Epizooties (OIE). The OIE traditionally has focused on animal health; the identification, containment and eradiation of both domestic and foreign diseases. The OIE has 166 member countries, ranging from developed to developing status. To date the OIE is considering four areas of farm animal welfare – these are slaughter, land transportation, see transportation and mass euthanasia pertaining to a disease outbreak.

On top of all the above challenges outlined previously, the every day consumer of meat derived produce knows very little about animal agriculture and today’s way of raising pigs, cattle and poultry and this can create a dangerous vacuum of knowledge that can be filled by entities that maybe in direct conflict with the pork industries agendas and aims.

2. Objectives

This paper will (1) discuss some recent challenges imposed onto the US swine industry in regards to the gestation sow (2) identify different farrowing systems available to a producer and (3) provide comparisons of sow and litter behavior and performance in differing farrowing systems.

3. Gestation systems

Gestation sow housing methods are a contemporary animal welfare issue particularly in Europe and North America. Selected European countries and the European Union have banned or are phasing out the use of stalls and tethers for gestating sows. Some US markets seek pork from systems that do not individually house sows (Niman, 2007; Wholefoods, 2007).

Extensive reviews have been conducted and published in regards to the well-being of the individual sow when housed under different gestation systems (Barnett et al., 2001; McGlone, et. al., 2004; SVC, 1997) and so the author encourages the reader to review these works. All these reviews in a nutshell have stated that all systems have their weakness and strengths, the management of the system is critical and the science does not emphatically support one system over another. So what system do US pork producers prefer to use? In Figure one the most popular way to house the sow is in gestation (64%) and farrowing (81%) stalls respectively (NAHMS, 2000).

Figure One: Housing systems for sows in the US. For sites that had specified production phases, percent of pigs by type of facility (NAHMS, 2000).

4. Challenges to the US swine industry 2002 – 2007

Two notable legislative events against the US pork industry occurred in 2002 and in 2006. On the 5th November, 2002, Florida’s voters banned the use of the gestation stall as a viable system for the sow, although this only affected two pork producers in the state, it set a legal precedence. In 2006, Proposition 204 was introduced onto the ballot by an Arizona Coalition which included The Arizona Humane Society, Animal Defense League of Arizona, AzSPCA, ASPCA, Farm Sanctuary and the Humane Society of the United States. This initiative included the banning of the gestation stall for the sow and also banned veal stalls. On November 7th 2006, the ballot passed, affecting an estimated 16,000 gestating sows. These laws will take effect at the end of 2012 but two exceptions to this ruling are that, stalls can still be used for (1) veterinary care, and (2) for farrowing and lactation. Recently, the humane coalition has announced that it plans to introduce similar legislation into Colorado (January, 2007).

In order for the legislative initiatives to continue and remain effective, HSUS retains the services of eight full-time lawyers, as well as numerous law clerks, administrative staff, outside counsel, and pro-bono attorneys. This section is the largest in-house animal protection litigation department in the country. The Animal Protection Litigation Section conducts precedent-setting legal campaigns on behalf of animals in state and federal courts around the country. Jonathan Lovvorn, HSUS vice president of animal protection litigation and co-teacher of an animal law seminar at George Washington Law School has noted that “The Animal Law Litigation Project represents an unprecedented alliance between a humane organization and one of our nation's leading law schools to move animal law out of the classroom and into the nation's courtrooms.”

Finally, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is keeping a close eye on the content for the 2007 Farm Bill. If successful the HR 5557 bill would set requirements for those producers that sell pork to the government for military, school, and other federal food programs. One of the requirements is that the animal must have enough space to completely turn around, thus preventing pork coming from sows that are housed in the gestation and farrowing stall.

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June 2007