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AHDB Pork Blog

Balconies give pigs more space and variety by Emma Slater

Emma SlaterYou are probably familiar with David Goodier, our strategic farmer based in Preston, Lancashire. He’s been focusing on improving the performance of his unit, and recent results, presented at our strategic farm meeting in February, demonstrated he is now achieving, on average, 26.9 pigs weaned per sow per year, an increase of 2 pigs per sow per year compared to when he started the project in 2016.

You might be wondering then, where do these extra pigs go? It’s a good question and one of the reasons why AHDB’s Environment and Buildings team set about organising a technical visit to Germany and the Netherlands in order to look at a commercial farm using a balcony system, as well as to find out about the research behind it.  

The balcony system, as the name suggests, consists of a second level within a pen. This is accessed via a ramp and provides not only additional space allowance for the pigs, improving welfare, but also offers functional zones, eg lying, exploring and dunging areas. In the Netherlands, the system is awarded a Beter Leven star (quality mark) on the grounds of improved welfare; the system is also used in other countries such as Germany, Poland and Ireland. 

Balcony Pen

Research has suggested that 95 per cent of the pigs will use the balcony and, having seen it on farm during our visit, this certainly seemed to be the case. The pigs looked healthy and happy and seemed to enjoy using the ramp and balcony area.

Following our farm visit, we took the opportunity to visit the Swine Innovation Centre (VIC) in Sterksel, the Netherlands. This facility is part of Wageningen University and research, and has been involved in developing the specification of the balcony design, in conjunction with equipment companies, farmers, researchers, government representatives and the animal protection organisation. The balcony has been designed carefully to optimise health and welfare, while maintaining performance. There is a specification for nearly anything you can think of, including ramp gradient, balcony height, floor area, width of the balcony, floor type, railing design and load weight of for the balcony, to name just a few.

What seems so attractive about the balcony system is that it is an economic way of giving your pigs more space and improving welfare, without having to invest in a whole new building. Keep your eyes peeled for a photo story and full report; in the meantime, if you would like to know more, please get in touch with a member of the Environment and Buildings Team, or have a look at our photo story here.

By AHDB Pork at 5 Mar 2018, 09:41 AM


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