Fiber Improves Sow Welfare


Flop with piglets in hay.

National Hog Farmer magazine’s latest issue has an interesting article “Fiber’s Role in Sow Welfare” by Debra Neutkens. Much of what she described for the mystery behaviors of the sows without fiber (licking the floor, licking the feeder when food isn’t present, sham chewing) sounds like nesting related behaviors without the props of something to nest with.

We raise pigs on pasture and see those same behaviors in the warm months on pasture but they are attended by the carrying of bedding materials (grasses, sticks, brush), grinding it up to shorter lengths and arranging it. The end result is a nest in which they farrow. Boars and barrows do not show anywhere near as much of these behaviors although on rare occassion I have seen boars carrying hay to new nests.

During the winter months we provide hay, primarily as round bales, to the pigs for bedding, nesting and for them to eat. They eat approximately 0.8 lbs per hundred weight per day of the hay over the course of the winter (Nov-April) as discussed in this article from December 2006. It is sort of like the being able to eat the dishes and your bed sheets…

…The Candyman makes
everything he bakes
Satisfying and delicious.
Talk about your childhood wishes.
You can even eat the dishes!

“CandyMan” from Sammy Davis, Jr.

As a side benefit of feeding the hay the pig manure is improved making for a better fertilizer. I believe this is caused by the fiber in the diet binding nitrogen as well as simply the filler of the fiber in the manure. This helps to preserve the nutrients from out gassing where they would be lost. For us, getting those nutrients back into the soil is an important part of our farm operation so as to improve our soils.

Our methods may be hard to implement in a confinement operation which is the primary focus of the National Hog Farmer magazine but there may be some ideas we’re using that they should borrow and adapt.

Outdoors: -2°F/-15°F Partially Sunny
Farm House: 58°F/42°F four logs
Tiny Cottage: 48°F/44°F no work

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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4 Responses to Fiber Improves Sow Welfare

  1. Patti says:

    When I raised a piggy I fedit hay too. My neighbor ,a retired farmer from Texas, thought I was nuts but it sure made the piggy happy.I just read that a major pork supplier is phasing out the farrowing crate in favor of pens.. “due to comsumer pressure for more humane treatment”

  2. EllaJac says:

    I tried posting earlier, and my computer messed up… Walter, do you clip your piglets’ needle teeth? I’ve heard it’s not as necessary to give iron shots when they’re on the ground, but what (if any) ‘interventions’ do you practice with your piglets?


  3. Patti, I read that too. They are switching from gestation crates to pens. It was not clear to me if the sows will be crated during farrowing but I suspect they will be since Smithfield Foods did not say they won’t be. What I read is that their plan is to make this transition over the next 14 years or so. That may seem like a long time, and it is to the sows, but one must realize that the people actually making the transition are the individual serfs, er, I mean hog farmers – Smithfield subcontracts out, they own the pigs and pay for said pigs to be raised. The serfs’ life is a hard one. See Podchef’s article on this and my comment.

  4. Ellajac, we don’t cut the needle teeth, dock tails, do shots, etc. These questions are so good I’ve ended up going into long detail over here. Thanks for the prod! Cheers, -Walter

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