Hog Watch Manitoba is promoting a straw-based, group housing system for pigs which would eliminate the liquid manure system of pits under barns and manure lagoons.
There are numerous benefits to a straw based system beginning with the positive welfare for the animals. Pigs are instinctively driven to root for food and this activity keeps them occupied for a large part of the day. Being able to fulfill instinctive behaviour generally decreases their stress levels, decreasing the need for sub-therapeutic antibiotics and resulting in healthier pigs.
The next benefit to a straw-based system is the elimination of the liquid manure collection pit and lagoon. If there is no pit under the barn collecting the animals’ waste, there will be much less toxic gas emanating from the pit. The ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulphide and carbon monoxide that rises from the pit is dangerous for workers in the barn and will result in pigs suffocating within hours of the ventilation system breaking down. These gases that are ventilated out of the barn often cause serious odour problems with neighbours, creating tension in communities.
The gases rising from the manure lagoons particularly methane, contribute to the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.
The liquid manure system relies on the spreading of manure as fertilizer. However, there is significant risk that too much manure, overly wet conditions, snow and rainstorms can cause some of the phosphorus and nitrogen to run off the land into ditches, streams and rivers, getting into our lakes and contributing to the toxic blue-green algae that is plaguing a number of our lakes. The deteriorating condition of Lake Winnipeg due to algae blooms became very evident at the same time as the hog industry expanded in Manitoba in the late 1990’s.
The use of straw-based housing for the pigs will result in significant decrease in demand for water as there will not be weekly flushing out of the pit under the barn. Given the current attention being paid to the need for conservation of water, creating a system that requires less water is highly desirable.