The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board is considering rules that could lead to changes in the way farmers house pregnant pigs.
Currently, many farmers keep sows in individual gestation stalls during breeding and pregnancy. Prior to giving birth, the animals are moved to separate farrowing units that provide protected areas for piglets to nurse.
In recent years, the gestation stalls have been subjected to intense public scrutiny. The primary concern is that the size of the enclosure prevents animals from turning around during pregnancy, which lasts just over three and a half months. A ballot measure proposed in 2010 would have essentially banned the use of stalls within six years.
The potential loss of gestation stalls troubled farmers who say stalls prevent fighting between sows, keep feeding areas clean and allow for individualized care. They have also noted that stalls are particularly important to ensure the well-being of the sow and its embryo during the initial stages of pregnancy.
Following the recommendations of a swine subcommittee and the input of several farmers, the livestock board is now considering a proposal saying that farms that currently have stalls could continue using them with no changes until 2025. The equipment typically has a lifespan of at least 15 years, so this would give farmers time to capture a return on the investments they have already made. After 2025, farmers would be able to use gestation stalls during breeding and the crucial early pregnancy stage. The stalls may also be used to isolate sick, injured or aggressive animals.
Aside from that, farmers would have to utilize an alternative form of sow housing. New facilities may be required to use alternative sow housing before 2025.
For example, that might include group pens or equipment that allows animals to enter and exit stalls as they choose. Some have called for more research into the effectiveness of these and other modified housing practices.