Research conducted by the Prairie Swine Centre suggests using rubber mats could benefit producers that are moving to group housing systems for sows.
In an effort to improve comfort and encourage greater use of free space in group housing systems scientists with the Prairie Swine Centre have been examining the use of rubber mats.
Dr. Jennifer Brown, a research scientist ethology with the Prairie Swine Centre, says the walk-in lock-in or free access stalls used at the Prairie Swine Centre allow the sow to leave the stall at any time which accommodates individual feeding while allowing the sow to move around and interact.
One thing we observe in this system, even though it’s very nice and flexible with stalls and free area, is that sows do spend an awful lot of their time in the stalls and some of them actually hardly ever exit the stall.
Certainly it is a concern.
If you’re going to go to a group housing system you want to see the benefits of sows being in groups which is increased exercise and there are a number of benefits associated with that like increased bone strength and maybe better longevity.
Some researchers in the United States found decreased farrowing intervals so fewer still births and maybe fewer crushings when the sows were in the farrowing crates.
We wanted to see sows using the free space more and being more active in this system so one way we thought to do that would be to provide rubber mats on the floors to give them more comfort when they exited the stalls.
Another thing that we were trying in the study was looking at grouping sows so that the older sows and younger sows were in separate group pens because one of our thoughts is that a lot of the younger sows weren’t exiting the stalls because they were fearful of being attacked by the bigger sows.
Dr. Brown notes 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.