When it comes to the conversation surrounding the use of gestation stalls for pregnant sows – there’s an important piece that has been left out. That’s according to Veterinarian Steve Dritz and Research and Extension Livestock Specialist Joel DeRouchey – both of Kansas State University – who say it’s important not to forget the reason producers implemented swine gestation stalls in the first place. Dritz says a gestation stall ensures a sow is fed to meet her individual nutritional needs. When in group pens – some sows eat more than they should – while others eat less than they need. Gestation stalls also protect the pregnant sows – as they can be aggressive and physically harm one another. DeRouchey notes those working with the animals love them and want them to do as well as possible.
Dritz recently spent time in Europe where he learned that animals with the ability to move in and out of gestation stalls actually choose to spend 80 to 85-percent of their time in the individual stalls. He adds that research designed to measure stress hormones in swine has shown no difference in sows that are free to move about versus those housed in gestation stalls. When it comes to production – he says gestation stalls and open pens can be successful. But when it comes to health – Dritz says there is no question gestation stalls protect animals and prevent injuries. He says that point is missing in many of the messages surrounding the gestation stall conversation.
According to DeRouchey – it’s easy to draw quick conclusions without understanding all the facts – including the long-term implications, the history behind the move to this system and why producers are reluctant to go back to the old way of doing things. He adds that sow housing affects small producers as well as the largest ones. He says the economics and history show that the idea moving from stall operations to pens will favor small operations is far from the truth. In fact – DeRouchey says there’s concern that mandating the move to pens will force many small producers out of business because of the capital costs associated with converting existing facilities. He says the mandates could lead to further consolidation of the industry. DeRouchey says we have to understand this debate is being influenced by organizations with another agenda beside animal welfare – the majority of the changers or big influencers want to abolish animal agriculture and end the consumption of meat.