Verdon, M and Hansen, CF and Rault, J-L and Jongman, LU and Hansen, LU and Plush, K and Hemsworth, PH, Effects of group housing on sow welfare: a review, Journal of Animal Science, 93, (5) pp. 1999-2017. ISSN 0021-8812 (2015) [Substantial Review]
Factors that have been shown to impact the welfare of group-housed sows are discussed in this review. Floor space allowance markedly affects sow welfare. In addition to quantity of floor space, the quality of space is important: spatial separation between sows can be provided with visual or physical barriers and stalls. Whereas 1.4 m2/sow is insufficient, further research is required to examine space effects in the range of 1.8 to 2.4 m2/sow in more detail. The period immediately after mixing has the most pronounced effects on aggression and stress, and therefore, well-designed mixing pens offer the opportunity to reduce aggression, injury, and stress while allowing the social hierarchy to quickly form. Because hunger is likely to lead to competition for feed or access to feeding areas, strategies to reduce hunger between meals through higher feeding levels, dietary fiber, or foraging substrate should be examined. However, feeding systems, such as full-body feeding stalls, can also affect aggression and stress by providing protection at feeding, but deriving conclusions on this topic is difficult because research directly comparing floor feeding, feeding stalls, and electronic sow feeder systems has not been conducted. Familiar sows engage in less aggression, so mixing sows that have been housed together in the previous gestation may reduce aggression. Although there is evidence in other species that early experience may affect social skills later in life, there are few studies on the effects of early "socialization" on aggressive behavior of adult sows. Genetic selection has the potential to reduce aggression, and therefore, continued research on the opportunity to genetically select against aggressiveness and its broader implications is required. Most research to date has examined mixing sows after insemination and knowledge on grouping after weaning is limited.