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March 9, 2014

Bigger pig pens create challenges for farmers

(Continued)

FAIR OAKS, Ind. —

Farm workers are testing other ways to reduce conflict that can injure smaller sows and cause them to miscarry. For example, pigs in groups scrum to establish a pecking order. Fair Oaks workers aim to move sows into 80-pig pens all in one day so the order can be set and peace established. Later additions would cause new fights.

An alternative is to place sows in groups too big for them to notice when a new animal enters.

DeKryger said it’s too soon to tell which method works best in reducing fights. And no system is perfect.

On a recent day, a bigger sow muscled her way into line at the feeder like a mean girl in middle school. A sow in another pen mounted a smaller one, leaving it with a limp. Yet another sow got its foot caught under rail, squealing and thrashing about until a worker freed it.

A foot or leg injury can mean death to a hog, and studies have shown such injuries are slightly more common in group pens than individual stalls because the animals move more.

“We can’t fix a broken bone,” DeKryger explained. “If they dislocate a hip, we have to euthanize.”

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