On May 17, the Swine Innovations Centre (VIC Sterksel) in the Netherlands opened a split-level unit (plateau unit) for growing-finishing pigs, according to an announcement from Wageningen University & Research.
The swine plateau is one way to improve animal welfare, as the split level increases the living area of the pigs 25-40% while offering possibilities to install a variety of pen enrichments. The split-level unit at Sterksel complies with the updated system description: Plateau 2.0. The plateau is collapsible to facilitate easy cleaning.
From its development in 2002, more and more plateaus have become operational in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Several practical experiences led to a profound evaluation followed by system improvements. The system description Plateau 2.0 has to guarantee the optimal functioning of the plateau while offering enough flexibility when implemented.
Plateau 2.0 has been established in a collaboration of private business (Van Osch Uden, Nooijen Pig Flooring, Proflex Beton Producten, and Genugten Agri), pig farmers, Wageningen Livestock Research, government and the Dutch Animal protection organization.
The greatest benefit of the split level might be the increased living area per pig, the announcement said. This also meets various market concepts for animal-friendly produced pork. Increasing the living area from 0.8 to 1.0 sq. m per finishing pig creates room for several welfare-improving measures.
Consider a larger solid floor area, and the possibility for the pigs to enjoy themselves. For instance, they will have the use of different flooring materials to lay down on, and the possibility to avoid pen companions, add to increased animal welfare.
The costs of a plateau for finishing pigs is about 100-200 euros per sq. m; for piglets it ranges from 50 to 100 euros per sq. m.
In practice, Wageningen said the pigs are well using the plateau. The piglets and growing-finishing pigs are fast learners. On average 95% of the pigs gets on the plateau. No effects have been observed in animal health and in the technical results. However, there are indications of less aggression among the pigs (tail biting).
To ease proper cleaning, the pig farmers point at the slope and the slats in the slatted areas at the head and wall side of the plateau. A good ventilation system and comfortable flooring materials will have to prevent the plateau from turning into a pig lavatory. The farmers also recommended making the plateau collapsible to facilitate easy cleaning under the plateau.
Finally, they concluded that the plateau should be lockable to ease treatments, and the final selection and delivering of the pigs.