Projects per year
in the light of the EU ban on individual confinement of gestating sows which will have to be fully implemented by 2013, a survey was conducted among a representative sample of Flemish pig producers. The questionnaire was sent by post to 250 farmers in 2003 and 352 farmers in 2005 of which 219 and 296, respectively, provided valid responses via telephone. The percentage of respondents housing (some of) their sows in group was 10.5% in 2003 and 16.2% in 2005. These farmers were more likely to have a successor than farmers housing their sows individually. The most common group housing systems were free access stalls (24 followed by electronic feeding stations (21, ad libitum feeding (20, feeding stalls/troughs (18, and drop/trickle feeding systems (130/0). Interval (4 and electronic feed dispensers (0 were very rare in Flanders. The main criteria for having chosen a particular group housing system related to sow health and welfare, investment costs and amount of labour. The relative importance of economic reasons has increased over time. Users were generally rather satisfied with their group housing system. Farmers using group housing for all their sows were more satisfied than farmers using both group and individual housing. Users of ad libitum feeding systems (and feeding stalls/troughs) were more satisfied than users of electronic feeding stations. A minority of respondents was planning to change to group housing within two years time (4.1 % in 2003 and 7.4% in 2005). These tended to be young farmers with a large sow herd and 58% reported to opt for free access stalls. The main reason why the remaining respondents were not planning to change to group housing yet is that they will stop farming activities before 2013. This reason was particularly important for older small-scale farmers without a successor. In contrast, the lack of financial resources and security was particularly important for young farmers of a large sow herd with a likely successor. An increasing group of farmers (often without a successor) reported to delay changing to group housing because they consider individual housing more profitable. These results show that, in Flanders, the conversion to group housing is taking place slowly, that the reasons for not converting yet vary according to the farmers' age, the likelihood of a successor and herd size, and that there are differences between operational group housing systems concerning herd size, age of the system, sow management and user satisfaction. (C) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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