Research conducted at the Prairie Swine Centre suggests the use of rubber mats in group sow housing systems improves comfort and stimulates increased exercise.
As part of a study intended to encourage greater use of free space among group housed sows researchers tracked the behavior of 16 groups of high parity sows or low parity sows and gilts housed in walk-in lock-in stall pens at the Prairie Swine Centre’s research barn in Floral, Saskatoon.
Dr. Jennifer Brown, a research scientist ethology, explains groups were housed in “I” or “T” pen configurations on concrete flooring or on concrete flooring covered or partially covered by rubber mats.
What we did find was that certainly in the I-pens, where there was fully slatted rubber in the whole central alleyway we noticed a greater effect.
Both the young and old sow groups tended to exit the stalls a lot more frequently when the rubber was present than when they had concrete floors so we did achieve our goal of getting sows out into the open area more with the rubber.
In the T-pens we did see a difference in the younger sow groups but not so much in the older sow groups and, like I say, the rubber mats in those pens didn’t cover the whole floor space and didn’t make as much of a difference for the older sows.
We also think that the younger sows were exiting more than they would have if they were in a mixed group even though we didn’t actually test that effect in this study but it gives us ideas for future work that we’re doing looking at different social groupings in group housing.
Another finding was that, looking at the postures of the sows, when they had access to rubber mats they were lying actually more on their side indicating a greater comfort instead of lying on their front chest.
Dr. Brown says the work suggests rubber mats could be a benefit to producers that are moving to group housing systems.