Gestation housing for sows: a comparison of individual gestation stalls within confinement facilities and group pens in deep-bedded hoop barns
The effects of gestation housing system on sow and litter performance over 2.5 yr were evaluated in southwestern Iowa. Gestation housing system treatments were 1) individual gestation stalls in a mechanically ventilated, partially slatted floor, manure flush confinement building (CONF); and 2) group pens with individual feed stalls in deep-bedded, naturally ventilated hoop barns (HOOP). In all, 957 litters from 353 sows were analyzed using mixed models. Cull events (120) that occurred during the study were analyzed for correlations between housing treatment and reason for culling. Number born alive per litter differed for the two housing treatments (P = 0.002) with HOOP resulting in 0.7 more pigs born per litter. Pre-wean mortality was not different (P = 0.7) for the two housing treatments. Cross fostering occurred to equalize litter size within 24 h of birth. This ultimately resulted in an equal (P = 0.5) number of weaned pigs/ sow occurring regardless of gestation housing treatment. Wean-to-breed interval was different (P = 0.01) with CONF sows returning to estrus 1.7 d faster than HOOP sows. Failure to conceive was the leading reason for culling in both treatments. There was a trend for sows gestated in CONF to be culled more often for feet and leg unsoundness. HOOP sows tended to be culled more often for poor body condition. Results indicate that gestating sows can be housed in deep-bedded hoop barns equipped with individual feeding stalls and achieve production comparable or superior to gestating sows housed in individual stall gestation systems. Construction and operating costs for the two gestation housing systems were also compared. Fixed costs are less for hoop barns equipped with individual feeding stalls compared to mechanically ventilated confinement systems with individual gestation stalls. Assuming equal prolificacy, feed cost per weaned pig is 7% more, but total cost per weaned pig is 3% less for pigs produced by sows gestated in hoop barns compared to pigs from individual stall gestation systems. When the reported increase in live pigs born for litters following hoop gestation was included in the cost analysis, the group housing in hoop barns for gestation resulted in a weaned pig cost that was 11% less than the cost of a weaned pig from the individual stall confinement system. In the upper Midwest United States, group housing of gestation sows in deep-bedded hoop barns may produce pigs at a lower cost than individual gestation stalls in confinement facilities.