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Freedom of choice limits pig aggression

Designing sow housing that focuses on comfort and allowing pigs to make their own decisions can help minimize stress and aggression in group housing.

Michigan hog farmer Joel Phelps, president of producer cooperative Great Lakes Pork, said he has seen improvements to pig welfare by designing a housing system that doesn’t restrict sow behavior, reports WattAgNet.

By allowing sows to eat, sleep and drink when they want, sows are more comfortable and less likely to bite and show other signs of aggression, he said.

Addressing the New World of Technology for Pork Producers conference in Des Moines, Iowa, Phelps said he had made use of strategic waterer placement and technology including gated electronic sow feeders to give more flexibility to his farming system.

Sows are identified by electronic ear tags, which allow them to enter closed pens that feed them to their exact needs.

Employees carry iPads that allow them to log in and change individual feeding plans at any time.

Pens have been designed to maximize comfort, with each animal given 22 square feet of space, and there are lights above every feed station that offer an inviting atmosphere, Phelps said.

Gilts are given training time after they are moved from gilt development movements.

Phelps said the electronic feeders allow sows to make their own decisions.

“If you tell a sow that wants to eat at 5am to wait, she’s not going to be happy,” he said. “That’s where the aggression comes from.”

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