By sow housing, the industry refers to the method of housing, penning, and caring
for breeding, pregnant or lactating sows. Most often, the "sow housing issue" refers
to how pregnant sows are kept. The sow housing choices refer to three primary housing
How sows are housed; that is, indoors or outdoors
How sows are fed; that is, pregnant sows are often limit fed to meet their nutrient
requirements but to prevent obesity -- this means the pregnant sow is often hungry
How sows are penned; sows could be in an individual crate (or stall), or they may
be in a variety of pen (meaning group housing) configurations with complete ability
to socially interact with other sows.
How sows are supported; Penning type also includes a type of flooring. The main floor
type used today is concrete slatted flooring. Other floor types include solid concrete
flooring, bedded surfaces (using, for example, wheat straw bedding) or outdoor
The hot-button issue in sow housing is the objection to keeping pregnant sows in gestation
crates sometimes called stalls). Countries and US states have banned this “housing”
system (it is actually a penning system). The Federation of Animal Sciences Animal
Care Committee held a webinar on the topic. The webinar was recorded and can be view
at this link: http://www.fass.org/2012animalcareseries/gestation/
The sow housing issue has increased in attention for two primary reasons. First, Europe
passed a law some years ago that banned the use of tethers for sows during gestation.
Recently, the EU has begun a phase-out of gestation crates (stalls). Stalls are not
be on farms by the year 2013; other requirements are also imposed. The EU claimed
to make this requirement based on the available science (a view contested by the US
pork industry). The EU scientific report is available here
Second, market forces are driving the animal welfare issue in all farm animal species.
Activist groups are pressuring fast food and supermarket companies to adopt strict
animal welfare requirements, often including not allowing the use of gestation crates.
The food retailers and others would like to see consistent animal welfare laws around
the world. Thus, some groups would like the EU laws to apply in North America (and
What does the EU say about the sow housing issue? The EU would like the following to happen with pregnant (dry) sows. They should have:
Social contact (group housing or a ban of crates and tethers)
Provision of permanent access to rooting materials (such as bedding)
Pigs must have access to areas to feed simultaneously, with some exceptions (For more
information on this point related to ESF systems click here).
The EU general rules for all common farm animal species are found here
Rhodes Tracey R, Michael C. Appleby, Kathy, Chinn K, Lawrence Douglas, Lawrence D.
Firkins, Katherine A. Houpt, Christa Irwin, John J. McGlone, Paul Sundberg, Lisa Tokach,
and Robert W. Wills. 2005. A comprehensive review of housing for pregnant sows. J. American Vet Medical Assoc (JAVMA). 227(10):1580-1590.