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November 8, 2002

Voter impact on swine production may come to a state near you

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The votes are in, and swine producers may feel the winds of change blowing in to dictate new ways of raising and managing pigs, according to a Purdue University expert on animal behavior.

Florida voters this week approved a state constitutional amendment prohibiting commercial hog producers from housing pregnant sows in gestation stalls. These pens are used by the vast majority of pork producers, said Ed Pajor, assistant professor of animal sciences.

Pajor, who researches animal behavior and management issues, said the science on the practice is inconclusive.

"Different housing systems have different advantages and disadvantages, but it is clear from numerous studies that systems that give sows more room can work just as well as gestation stalls," he said. "The current issue is more one of economics and social policy about how animals are raised than it is science."

Pajor said the benefits of gestation stalls are that they take up less space, allow for individual feeding and monitoring of animals and keep the animals from fighting amongst themselves. However stalls also restrict the sow's movement and limit social interaction. He said under these conditions, some sows can develop stress-related behaviors.

He said raising animals in groups allows the sows to socialize, but at the same time creates a hierarchy of dominance.

"Although the welfare of the group may be better, you may have more variation in animals," he said. "The top sows do better and the smaller sows may do much worse than if they were in a stall."

Pajor said some producers have experimented in the past with using gestation stalls that allow sows to turn around. Most stalls currently in use do not allow for the animals to turn around. He said problems with larger stalls included sows defecating in the feed when turned around and, as they grew, sows could get stuck in the cages when moving about.

While Florida is not a major pork producing state, Pajor said producers should expect similar activities in other states.

"Concern over how animals are raised is increasing across a broad spectrum of the population," he said. "Producers need to consider ways of showing the public that they are acting in both the consumers' and the animals' interests."

And Pajor said producers are sensing the trend and trying to get ahead of public sentiment.

"I'm talking to more producers who are considering putting in group systems as they plan to expand or renovate their facilities," Pajor said. "Raising animals in groups requires different management procedures and trade-offs."

Pajor said other measures that would help producers address public concerns include developing industry guidelines, establishing certification programs and allowing third-party audits of production facilities.

Referendums, like the one in Florida, are relatively new ground for promoting animal issues. Similar objectives have been achieved by appealing to restaurants, such as the changes that came about in the poultry industry after McDonald's required producers to use larger cages for the chickens sold to the fast-food giant, Pajor said.

Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-2722; forbes@purdue.edu

Source: Ed Pajor, (765) 496-6665; pajor@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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