A sow stall is a pen where a sow is housed while pregnant.
Some farms still use sow stalls (also known as a gestation stall as they are only used during gestation). It is roughly the length and width of a fully grown sow and does not allow the sow to turn around or leave. The sow is traditionally housed in a stall for some of her pregnancy, which lasts for approximately 115 days.
From 2017, the Model Code of Practice for Animal Welfare: Pigs requires producers to confine sows in individual stalls for no longer than six weeks or around one third of her pregnancy. The Code has been adopted by all state and territory governments and is now a legal requirement. It should be noted that both Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory have implemented a legislated ban on the use of sow stalls.
Gestation stall free
As an industry, we have taken a world-leading position by voluntarily committing to phase out the use of gestation stalls. Today around 76 per cent of sows are verified as gestation stall free.
To be gestation stall free, sows must be loose or group housed with other sows from five days after they are last mated until seven days before giving birth. At this time, sows are moved into ‘piglet protection pens’ to prepare for farrowing.
To be counted as gestation stall free, all sow housing on a site must comply with the industry definition. As an example, if one shed is compliant but another is not, none of the sows can be counted and verified as gestation stall free. This means that as producers gradually implement the voluntary initiative, there are likely to be some sows in group housing that are not counted as gestation stall free.
Compared to the Model Code and other country’s standards, this initiative means the industry standard is only exceeded by the APIQ✓® Coles GSF standard, which requires sows to be confined to a mating stall for one day instead of five.
For a comparison between the different gestation stall systems, see the ‘Sow reproduction cycle housing document’.
Does imported pork come from farms that use sow stalls?
Yes, imported pork usually comes from pigs raised in sow stalls. The phasing out of sow stalls have commenced in various parts of the world, but are not as strict as the Australian industry’s voluntary commitment. Only the United Kingdom and some parts of Denmark meet the Australian voluntary initiative of confinement. Most of the EU has regulated a partial ban, but still permits sow stall use for up to four weeks at the start of pregnancy.
A number of US retailers have signalled their intention to buy only “gestation stall free” pork. However, in most cases it is unclear exactly what this means. Sow stalls have been banned in some US states, mostly states where pork production is very low.