Sow stress leads to lower litter sizes and loss in production. Producers all across North America are in constant search of how to reduce stress in swine barns. Many are converting to group sow housing to allow the pigs more freedom, reduce stress, and improve animal health.
While many believe sow stress might multiply in group sow housing with the animals having constant contact and the freedom to fight, this is not the case with the right barn design and proper training. When sow stress is handled properly, group gestation pens are calm, quiet, and comfortable for the pigs. Learn more on how to properly handle sow stress and stressors in a loose housing barn.
Remove Stressors From the Barn During the Planning and Design Phase
Removing the stressors from your swine barn in the design and planning stage is the easiest and most effective way to reduce stress and improve health among your pigs. It is simple, if there are fewer stressors at the start, the animals will not begin stressed and will not carry that forward as they mature. The success of a barn is largely determined before it is ever populated.
In a loose housing barn, feeding is the main component around which the life of the pig and the design of the pen revolve. For a pig, her primary and immediate concern when first entering a pen is where she will eat. Designs should accommodate an entry into the pen that allows the new girls entering to engage first with the feeder before making new friends.
Hire a Pig Whisperer
The person who trains your pigs to use the group housing pens properly is perhaps the most important person you will hire in your hog barn. He/she is the one that all of the pigs must trust when encountering stressful situations (i.e. using ESF equipment for the first time). This person must be naturally calm and enthusiastic about the job. If this person is naturally negative, he/she will tend to negatively discipline or get frustrated with the animals causing more stress in the barn. By comforting and positively reinforcing good habits, the pig whisperer will sooth the sows and help them be comfortable as they learn new processes. When we help train pig whisperers, we always encourage them to make pets out of the pigs every day. The girls will respond and trust this person throughout their life in the group sow housing facility.
Allow the Sows to Be Free and Curious
We know that pigs can be stubborn and unwilling to try new things. If your girls are avoiding new systems or resisting your suggestions, it is vital that you do not force them into anything they do not want to do. This will only work them up and cause more problems. They will continue to fight you and irritate the rest of the group. Instead, let the sows be free to explore. They are naturally curious animals, so let them do your work for you. It may take a little time for them to become comfortable with new processes and equipment, but in the end you will save time and effort if they learn new things on their own.
This is also where your pig whisperer comes into play. The pigs will trust this person, so rely on him/her to give gentle suggestions. These suggestions will be received much more willingly than forceful commands.
Pay Attention to Details
There are plenty of ways to reduce stress in your group sow housing facility. In the end, it comes down to paying attention to details. Always keep an eye on your sows' behavior. If you see spikes in irritation, identify the source, and either get rid of it or find a solution to the problem. Ignoring small details will be okay for a few days, but it is these small details that build up over time and cause major stress among your sows. It is best to smother the small fires when they spark up rather than give the stress time to build into an insurmountable blaze.
When we design and supply new group sow housing, we provide in-depth training for you and your swine barn staff. In this training, we teach best practices for preventing stress in your barn. People are often amazed at how calm and quiet the barns are after the pigs have been trained and become comfortable with the building.
Although the best time to remove stress is before it starts, it is never too late to improve your circumstance and barn atmosphere. Sows are social and curious animals and while very habitual, they can also be accommodating and forgiving. Implementing practices today that take into consideration the needs of your girls can quickly be rewarding. Feel free to contact New Standard Group to start a conversation about how you can implement stress reduction ideas into your swine barn.
If you are interested in learning more about stress reducing tips and loose housing design, we would love to have a conversation with you. Give us a call or learn more by clicking the button below!