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10 tips on group housing sows

Fighting is inevitable. Here is how to minimize it.

When housing sows in pens, remember that unfamiliar sows fight for dominant status. Focus on minimizing competition and social stress for individual sows in a group. Here are tips from University of Minnesota Extension and the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, Minnesota:

1. Mix sows five weeks after breeding. Sows are less aggressive once pregnant. In addition, aggression two and three weeks after breeding can result in loss of embryos.

2. Mix sows that were housed in the same group during the last gestation. Sows can remember their pen mates after a separation, and will fight less when housed with sows they remember.

3. Sort by similar ages/sizes. Young sows are less aggressive than mature sows.

4. Make young sows the majority when young sows have to be mixed with older sows. Introduce a group of young sows that know each other to the pen.

5. Mix sows after feeding. Since limit-fed gestating sows fight for feed, aggressive interactions increase at feeding time.

6. Feed sows unlimited high fiber diets during the period of mixing. Sows with free access to feed containing high fiber content are less aggressive than limit-fed sows.

7. Consider boar intervention. Boars can suppress aggression among sows either due to the dominant status of the boar or the sexual distraction.

8. Provide hiding spaces for subordinate sows to flee and hide from dominant sows in the pen.

9. Form static groups. Once sows are mixed, do not add sows to the pen.

10. Avoid slippery or broken floors. The pen should have dry, even and non-slippery floors to avoid leg injuries caused by fighting.

Get more guidance on transitioning to group housing at www.extension.umn.edu/swine.

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