On a brisk winter day, a young gilt on the Minnesota farm of Arvid and Lois Jovaag momentarily interrupts rooting for morsels with her companion to gaze at the camera. Soon, she will become a breeding sow and join the Jovaag's other sows to live in a cohesive social group. Unlike sows raised as youngsters in barren factory environments and housed in crates as adults, she has lived in free association with other pigs all her life. Her early social experiences will prepare her and her companions for a smoother integration into the larger group of sows they will join. In winter on the Jovaag farm, pregnant sows are housed indoors on fresh straw. In the summer, they live on wooded pastures. Although they are fed as a group, the enriched environment and social opportunities the Jovaags provide enable their sows to avoid the unresolved competition and excessive injuries recorded among group-housed sows in the recent study published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association and reviewed on pages 4-5.
Photo by Marlene Halverson/AWI