Grouping sows involves changes in how the animals are handled and, accordingly, in how work is scheduled. When sows are grouped (except in the case of free-access stalls), the producer no longer has individual access to each gestating sow. Individual access to a locked-in sow is limited to the weaning period up until the time they are placed in a group and during farrowing. With all these changes regarding what work needs to be done and how it is organized, it is easy to see that group management can be a headache for the producer. However, most producers felt that the practice of group management shortened the time they needed to spend dealing with gestating sows and simplified their work, or at least made it more pleasant.
The transition to group housing appears to reduce the amount of work time spent on the part of the producer; there is a difference of about 3 fewer hours/sow/year when swine are group- managed, given an equivalent-sized herd.
However, producers said that they changed the way they manage their sows when they were placed in groups. They now have greater contact with their animals, but that changed the way they monitor and supervise them. Observing them requires more time for some, whereas other producers stated that group management makes observing the animals easier. However, on a daily basis, the arrangement is seen by the producers as something that simplifies their work. This gain in efficiency is tied in part to the simplification of certain tasks. Operations where the sows are housed in free-access stalls saw the least amount of change in work procedures because the sows can be temporarily locked in.
A number of practices still remain to be adapted to the group-handling system, but on the whole, the new management system seems satisfactory for the producers interviewed. With the ESF system, as with small groups, supervision and monitoring of the herd remains a constant challenge.