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Danish Pig Research Centre Annual Report 2012: Farrowing Pens

01 August 2013

The latest annual report from the Pig Research Centre (PRC) describes the work carried out there to improve the design of traditional farrowing crates for improved sow welfare as well as into 'free farrowing' alternatives.

Same Pen - New Design

Gate (top) or low step (bottom) may improve working environment

The traditional farrowing pen where the sow is housed in a crate is the safe choice in terms of production. PRC is currently investigating how to improve the farrowing pen with the crate to optimise working environment as well as management

Trial pens have been established with:

  • improved access to the pen
  • straw rack above the sow's trough
  • rear gate in the crate for staff access
  • trough divided into two: one for water and one for feed, and
  • drain below trough in pens with solid floor

The aim is technically simple solutions that can also be used in existing pens. Not all solutions are available for sale yet.

The project is financially supported by the EU and the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture & Fisheries. Journal no. 3663 U 11 00183. Vissing Agro. Ikadan and AgroElementer also partake in the trial activities.

Room for Lactation

Results of a trial comparing the AP Welfare farrowing crate (AP Company) with the traditional AP farrowing crate demonstrated no differences in either litter weight at weaning or piglet mortality. (For more information, see

Compared with the traditional AP crate, the AP Welfare crate is characterised by im­ proved space for the sow lying laterally and for the nursing piglets.

Most farrowing crates available in Demark are fairly similar but they vary in terms of space and adjustability. A sow lying laterally measures ≤71cm from back to udder and the length of a four-week-old pig is ≤56cm. A sow lying laterally measures ≤47cm in "height" (shoulder width). These dimensions apply to 95 per cent of Danish hybrids and piglets, and must be taken into consideration when designing a crate to ensure that the sow is able to utilise the extended lying area.

Heat behind the Sow at Farrowing

Preliminary results of a trial on the use of heat in the slatted floor behind the sow during farrowing did not show any positive effects on piglet survival. The surface temperature of the slatted floor was approximately 28°C.

Loose Sows in the Farrowing Unit

Two types of farrowing pens for loose sows are recommended by PRC

  • FF-pens: Free Farrowing where the sow is loose all the time
  • SWAP-pens: Sow Welfare And Piglet Protection, which is a modified FF-pen where the sow’s movement can be restricted – for instance during the first couple of days after farrowing to increase piglet survival.

Loose all the time (FF)

For a few years, PRC recorded productivity on farms with both traditional farrowing pens with crates and pens for loose sows.

Results demonstrated that a percentage of loose farrowing sows actually have a production level that is comparable with that of sows housed in traditional pens with crates. Results also showed that in many pens for loose sows, solid floors remain dry, provided the pens are designed according to recommendations, i.e. dimensions and design as shown in Figures 1 and 2.

The dimensions of the FF-pen allow the sow to turn around freely, and the floor profile allows for maintenance of good floor hygiene.

Figure 1. Key sketch of the FF pen for loose farrowing sows (FF = Free Farrowing)

Figure 2. Picture of the FF pen for loose farrowing sows (FF = Free Farrowing).

Loose – as much as possible

The combi pen 'Combi-fex farrowing pen 2011' from Vissing Agro was investigated on one farm to monitor the sows’ use of the pen. The sows were crated pre-farrowing and for the first few days post-farrowing.

Experience showed that when the crate was opened, the sows preferred to lie with their head towards the feeding area (55 per cent) whereas when dunging, they faced away from the feeding area (56 per cent). For more information, see report 1204 at

Results are not sufficiently clear-cut for PRC to define the ideal place for, for instance, a solid floor area. However, herd experiences with loose farrowing sows indicate the need to be able to restrict the sow’s movement for a few days post-farrowing to increase piglet survival,

The SWAP pen (Figure 3) is expected to meet this requirement. Together with the University of Copenhagen, PRC is investigating the efffect of confinement for a few days on sow welfare and piglet survival rates. As sows are only housed in confinement for a few days, the pens must gener- ally be designed as the FF-pens.

A large number of SWAP-pens will be established on a commercial farm in 2012 where the pens will be compared with FF pens.

Figure 3. Key sketch of the SWAP pen where the sow's movement is restricted for the frst few days post-farrowing

Climate and Immediate Environment

PRC is monitoring a farm with loose farrowing and lactating sows with two circuits for heating/cooling in the floor in the farrowing facility: one in the creep area and one in the pen.

Preliminary figures reveal an overall consumption per sow and year of 269kWh, of which 211kWh is for the creep area and 36kWh pen for heating/cooling, respectively, in the pen, and 22kWh for the heat lamp.

The project was financially supported by the EU and the Rural District Programme under the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture & Fisheries. Journal no. 3663-D-10-00458.

August 2013

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