Curbs Pregnant Sows' Hoggish Ways
By Don Comis
July 15, 2002
An automated feeding system that
eliminates the need for crating sows during their four-month pregnancies will
be tested as part of a joint project involving the Agricultural Research
Service, Texas Tech University in Lubbock and
Automated Production Systems, Inc., of Assumption, Ill.
The feeding system, called "trickle feeding," allows sows to be
kept in social groups in open pens. The system has been developed and tested in
Europe, but this ARS-funded project will be the first complete evaluation of
the system in North America.
ARS farm animal behavioralist Julie Morrow-Tesch will work with Texas Tech
animal scientist John J. McGlone on the project. Morrow-Tesch is with the
ARS Livestock Issues Research Unit
in Lubbock, and the project is part of ARS' national research drive to improve
animal handling practices. McGlone heads Texas Tech's
Institute, which has a
Pork Farm for testing new practices.
Keeping sows in crates during pregnancy is being phased out in Europe. Many
animal welfare and animal rights groups, consumers and food retailers in the
United States also criticize crating because it doesn't allow sows much room
and keeps them from enjoying social groupings. The crates protect sows from
competition for food, ensuring all get equal rations.
The new feeding system promises to do the same, but without isolating
animals. It uses a string of feed hoppers and dispensers to parcel out food to
individual sows at the speed of the slowest eater. Faster eaters learn there is
no advantage to leaving their dispensers.
The scientists are testing the system with social groups of five sows each.
The sows are kept in a pen with free access to the feeding area. They run to
the dispensers when they hear the distinctive whir signaling that the
dispensing augers are turning.
ARS is the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief
scientific research agency.