Today we paid a visit to Ketelaars assembly-center in Heeswijk-Dinther (NL). This company gathers sows for slaughterhouses domestic and abroad, including VION.
The owner made time to talk to us about the new EU guidelines and gave us a short tour of the facility. At the time of our visit only 15 sows were present, confined in a pen without any bedding. The owner informed us that the sows had only just arrived and bedding would be scattered soon.
One of the sows had fresh scratches from fighting and was lying in the corner. She was able to walk but was afraid of the other sows. Fights to establish rank are common at assembly centers because sows from different farms are mixed in a single pen. These fights often cause stress and injuries because the sows cannot escape from the situation in these enclosed pens where space is very limited.
We suggested the following modifications to the manager:
- Placing one or two partitions per holding pen to create areas where sows can take shelter when they are bitten or scared. These partitions are also frequently used on sow farms. In addition, pigs often prefer to lie against some sort of backing, so it also increases their overall comfort
- Give sows more space so they can exhibit natural behaviors such as “submissiveness” and are able to retreat more easily. Fights are then less likely to escalate, reducing stress and injuries
- Supply materials to offer distraction such as rope, chains with a small ball, burlap cloths, AllBite blocks, CCM (Corn Cob Mix) or corn pellets – these will redirect the sow’s attention and decrease the likelihood of fights
- Use masking sprays to make all pigs smell the same and therefore fight less. These sprays are also used in slaughterhouses.
Finally, we recommended that the partitions of the holding pens be sealed off at the bottom to prevent drafts and cold-stress. We hope that the assembly-center implements our suggestions but unfortunately, we have had no reply so far.