On May 17th 2017 the Swine Innovations Centre (VIC Sterksel) opened a split-level unit (plateau unit) for growing-finishing pigs. The swine plateau is one way to improve animal welfare. The split level increases the living area of the pigs with 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.
Mutual evaluation leads to system improvements
From its development in 2002, more and more plateaus have become operational in both the Netherlands and abroad. 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 organisation. Representatives of the last two praised the constructive collaboration on the road to the renewed system description.
Advantages animal welfare
The greatest benefit of the split level might be the increased living area per pig. This also meets various market concepts for animal-friendly produced pork. Increasing the living area from 0,8 to 1.0 m2 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 more fun with a bin containing rooting, or bedding material on the plateau. But also the use of different flooring materials to lay down on, and the possibility to avoid pen companions, add to increased animal welfare.
The Animal protection organisation rewards the plateau unit with one star according to their ‘Improved life’ concept. The ministry expects the government’s legal acknowledgement of the plateau system will remain after 2018. The costs of a plateau for finishing pigs is about 100-200 euros per m2, for piglets it ranges from 50 to 100 euros per m2.
Experiences confirm expected advantages
In practice 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 amongst the pigs (tail biting).
Points of attention according to pig farmers
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. They also recommend making the plateau collapsible to facilitate easy cleaning under the plateau. Finally they conclude the plateau should be lockable to ease treatments, and the final selection and delivering of the pigs.
The new plateau unit is open to visitors. A special corridor alongside the plateau unit gives the visitors a unique view inside the unit. The corridor is furnished with information panels in Dutch as well as English.