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Pig Health & Disease / Pig Welfare
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Peter Best | Folding the floor creates a cart that can be moved by a pallet truck and the sow is either walked on to the cart or lifted on.
on May 24, 2012

Denmark developing mobile hospital for sick sows

Platform folds, used as both ambulance and basis of hospital pen

A mobile pen under development in Denmark could help solve the problem of where to put a sow that needs to be segregated for special attention. The pen acts both as an ambulance to move sick or injured sows if they cannot walk comfortably and as a temporary isolation area in which they can stay while they recover.

Denmark’s animal welfare rules require that every herd has hospital-pen accommodation equivalent to at least 2.5 percent of the total number of places on the site for sows in group gestation. A minimum of one hospital pen must always be ready for immediate use. Other stipulations state that the floor must have either a rubber mat or straw bedding so it is soft for at least two-thirds of its area. Hospital pens for sows and gilts can hold up to three animals at a time, but always with the appropriate facilities for climate and for feeding and watering.

As a member of the European Union, Denmark also has adopted the EU regulation banning the use of individual stalls to house sows in pregnancy. Any conversion of former stall housing into gestation in groups raises questions of how many places can be fitted into an existing building, even before trying to find some space for hospital pens. The Danish designers of the mobile pen see their idea as a stand-by facility to be the hospital quarters for a single sow. This allows the producer to satisfy the local welfare law on pen provision without needing the allocation of floor area inside a permanent structure.

But the design team of veterinarian Peter Høgedal with pig equipment specialists Peter Kaspersen and Jørn Kirkegaard realised there was another common difficulty if sows needed to be moved due to illness or injury: the sow could be unable to walk and would, therefore, require some form of assistance.

(XHD) Multi-purpose mobile pen  

Their proposal is a platform that folds so it can be moved by pallet truck into a position next to the sick sow. She then either walks on board or is rolled on if necessary. Once secured, she is carried out of the house to a position where the platform can begin its transformation into a temporary pen. In its unfolded form the platform changes from a cart only 60 cm wide into a floor measuring 1.9 m x 1.9 m. Raised about 8 cm above the surface on which it rests, this floor is composed of a perforated rubber pad that supplies a soft bed as well as drainage.

Surrounding both the bottom of the hospital pen and one side is a steel frame. Plastic panels are slotted in to be the walls on two sides, but the plan proposed by the designers would see the other two sides contributed by the corner of the building in which the pen was placed. Alternatively, there could be a gate across one end. A third wall of plastic panels would be a further option in non-corner positions. A feed trough and a watering nipple are fixed permanently to the frame, and the only further connection required is to the water supply.

The first prototype of the mobile pen has been under test for the past six months at the Mesing unit of producer Ole Larsen. Although very few sows are so lame that they cannot walk, the facility has already proved useful as the extra hospital pen which can be assembled in seconds when needed. The design works well in principle, say the Danish team members, so the next step will be to produce it commercially for sale to herds wanting a place for their sick sows. 

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