Research conducted by the University of Manitoba indicates, from an animal welfare perspective, sows housed in groups on straw tend to out perform those housed in conventional slatted floor systems.
Research at the University of Manitoba's National Centre for Livestock and the Environment is comparing sows housed in conventional slated floor facilities to those housed in groups on straw.
The two groups use the same genetics and are managed similarly.
Animal science professor Dr. Laurie Connor says scientists are tracking longevity, joint health, lameness and body condition scores as well as culling rates, litter sizes, born alives, deads and weaning weights.
"We do tend to get a slightly larger litter size, similar born alives but slightly different in weaning numbers, weaning weights, slightly more from the group that have been from sows that have been on straw throughout all of gestation.
"In terms of culling of the sows, in the conventional system more sows are culled within the same period of time, most often associated with leg problems, joint problems, not so much in terms of things like body condition.
"We're able to keep the animals in very similar condition in the two facilities.
"One of the problems, the most obvious from an economic standpoint, aside from having to replace more in the conventional barn is that we have to medicate more of those animals, the sows in particular, very often again associated with leg injuries, things associated with the complete slat floors in groups".
Dr. Connor says the straw based system requires straw and additional labour but those costs may be offset by reduced medication and culling costs.
She notes it is too early to make specific recommendations but further details of the work will be made public by early 2009.