PORK CRC is funding research into confinement free sow and piglet systems to improve the welfare of pigs.
Research is aimed at reducing the time sows and piglets are in stalls and eliminating the need for sow confinement during farrowing, lactation and gestation.
Murdoch University will lead a subprogram aimed at developing gradual weaning systems where the separation of sow and piglet during lactation will be monitored and improved using weaning technologies.
Pork CRC CEO Dr Roger Campbell says innovative housing, breeding and suckling systems will be designed.
âThe research on confinement free systems is all about enhancing animal welfare and well-being,â Dr Campbell says.
Pregnant sows will be studied in groups in relation to their social interactions, especially in larger living areas.
Interactions between sows, aggression levels, injury, retention rates (culling) and reproductive performance are factors to be studied.
âSows living in larger areas display less aggressive interaction between each other resulting in fewer injuries,â Dr Campbell says.
âQuality of feed and feed systems [frequency] can also impact on their behaviour and will serve as a welfare indicator.â
The mix of the sows in terms of age is also a factor.
Sows in their second pregnancy have better welfare and performance outcomes when mixed with younger sows.
âBy assessing sows in larger areas and their social interactions [fighting] we can ascertain their stress hormones [cortisol] levels and other stress immune indicators,â Dr Campbell says.
âSows housed in a larger area could result in lowering stress hormones.â
âWe have observed it is the size of the area that is of most significance, rather than the amount of pigs in the area.â
Larger areas are expected to improve the well-being of the sow, reproduction rates and the welfare of offspring.
Pork CRCâs subprograms with external partners include; gradual weaning systems, weaning technologies, housing systems and multi-suckling strategies aimed at reducing weaning stress.
âThe move towards confinement free sow and piglet systems is driven by the community, retailers and consumers,â Dr Campbell says.
There is evidence of change within the industry due to customer demand.
Coles have requested their suppliers remove all gestation crates and stalls by 2014.
âChange is occurring rapidly in the industry with sows living in outdoor [non-confined] systems growing from two per cent to 10 per cent in less than two years,â he says.
Pork CRCâs objective is for the industry to be completely rid of stalls by 2017.