With more restaurants and food service companies demanding that gestation-stall sow housing be eliminated, U.S. pork producers are under growing pressure to find viable alternatives. Many pork production operations have already eliminated stalls and have remodeled sow barns to include group housing systems.
"There are a number of systems that can be used to house sows and they all have merits," says Bill Tentinger, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. "We think that pork producers need to have the right to decide which system he would like to work with." According to Tentinger, the free-access option may provide a workable alternative to gestation stall systems.
Making changes in sow housing systems will be a very costly undertaking for producers who will "have a tough time converting," Tentinger says. The LeMars, Iowa producer says free-access housing combines group housing with an individual stall that allows a sow to eat in private and seek refuge from the group. Group-sow housing environments can become very competitive and dominant sows can inflict injuries on less aggressive sows.
In the free-access sow housing option, a sow has the option to enter and exit the individual stall at will, which may reduce the injuries and offer improved animal welfare. "Those systems look like they work," Tentinger added.