Posts Tagged ‘weaning sows’

Sows are so tame they don’t care what we do. You think?

Sunday, February 20th, 2011



People’s approach to moving weaned sows tends to go one of two ways:

Approach #1:

All hands on deck to simultaneously move sows out, dump feeders, tie up heat lamps, drag hose, and do whatever else has to happen to get washing under way as soon as possible. Assumption – more people produce faster results.


Approach #2:

Everyone clears out (includes out of hallways) while one person (possibly two) moves sows out of farrowing. Once sows are out, others come in and set up for washing. Assumption – extra people make sows harder to move and cost extra time.


So, just how much / little do our actions matter to sows?


Clip 1: the handler had just come in from a hallway that runs to our left.

–          The first sow hesitated

–          A gesture with his left hand started her turning

–          The gesture that followed with his right hand, finished it off


Position and hand gestures



Clip 2: The handler came in directly in front of the lead sow and she hesitated.

–          He switched to the other side of the hall

–          He “sucked up” his body language

–          The sows carried on past him


Position and body language




Clip 3: The sow stopped and began looking back to her right

–          The handler paused then stepped to the opposite side of the hallway

–          The sow’s head came forward as she followed his movement across the hallway

–          That straightened her up and she carried on moving forward and past him.


Position pulled attention



In all three clips the handler noticed the sow’s moment of hesitation and responded to it.

In Clips 2 and 3 the sow responded the way the handler wanted. In Clip 1 he didn’t get the outcome he intended but he made the connection between his actions and the sow’s response. That’s called learning and it’s even more valuable than getting what you want every time.


The hand gestures in Clip 1 weren’t hugely threatening , but combined with the handler’s position they were enough to turn the sow back.


–          Compare his gestures with the energy we put into hoisting and dumping a sow feeder or stepping into a crate to hitch up heat lamps, and consider how threatening some of those actions might be to sows.

–          How much attention do we give to sows’ responses while we’re rushing to get “equipment things” done?

–          Do we pay more attention to conversations with fellow workers than to interactions with sows?

–          How many people and in how many directions do sows have to keep track of?


If we make it too complicated or too threatening for sows, they’ll want to stay where they are – in their crates- rather than moving out. If our position or actions present a barrier, they will want to turn back. Our actions can create handling problems whether we’re paying attention to sows’ responses to us or not.

Compare the distances between this handler and the sows that hesitated in the hallway, with your distances to sows in your farrowing rooms. How does that affect the way they respond to our actions?

Sows don’t just respond to what’s happening here and now. Events 10 minutes ago can set the stage for their current response.


Summary: If you normally have a crew of people in the room at weaning time and are having trouble moving sows, cut back to one person in the room, two max, and get sows out before you start wash prep. Keep it simple for them by giving them only one person to pay attention to. Give sows your full attention. Notice the influence you are having on them and adjust as needed.

If you wait until sows are out before you start full blown wash prep it:

–      won’t change the length of time it takes to dump feeders and do wash prep

–      could dramatically reduce the time and effort required to move sows out


Something else while we’re at it: ( and I’ve been here…)

Are you an employer or supervisor and going nuts seeing hands in pockets?

–          Were hands in pockets worse than Clip 1 where he had them out and moving?

–          Was he in conversation with the sows or with you?

–          Was he communicating with the sows effectively?

How might our expectations of what a motivated employee should act and look like, encourage pig handling problems?


That’s it for this week

Take care

Nancy Lidster