The health and welfare of lactating sows and sucking piglets.

calendar icon 9 November 2018
clock icon 5 minute read

Design requirements

The majority of sows in indoor units are farrowed in crates, although a few are loose-housed in pens, usually with wall bars, rounded corners and other structures to reduce piglet crushing. Outdoor sows are farrowed in arcs.

The farrowing pen - There are a wide variety of designs but they should be approximately 2.4m in length. In some designs the pen width is only 1.68m in which case the pen has to be longer with a forward creep. The creep lying area should be about 0.6 sq.m. and be either in front of or beside the head of the sow.

The crate should be a minimum length of 2.3m preferably with a moveable rear bar or gate for shorter gilts. The width between the bottom bars of the crate should be 730mm to allow for ease of suckling and at a height 230mm from the floor.

Modifications in design are largely aimed at preventing the sow crushing the piglets as she stands up and lies down or moves suddenly. They include angled projections on the bottom bars, or bottom bars which move in when the sow stands' and move slowly out when she lies down again. Cold air fans which automatically blow across the floor when she stands can be used to encourage the piglets to retreat to their warm creep.

Tail gate - This should be designed to prevent trauma to the vulva (parallel retaining bars at right angles to the crate are likely to cause this) and yet allow the sow room to farrow. A good design consists of two "D" shaped bars that project into the crate and hold the sow from the tail gate itself.

Floor - This may be either totally perforated using metal or plastic slats or part solid, the front half of the crate floor being insulated concrete. Alternatively the complete floor may be insulted concrete. The floor may be raised slightly to provide good drainage if slats are used with bedding. Make sure that the area where the front feet make contact with the floor is not slippery otherwise the sow has great difficulty standing (causing trauma to the piglets) and this increases levels of leg weakness and shoulder sores.

Water - Provide water using a bite type nipple drinker delivering 1.2 litres per minute, located at the most forward point of the farrowing crate at head height. Alternatively, this can also be provided through a mono-flow nipple drinker delivering a minimum of 2 litres per minute, that projects into a trough either at head height or at floor level, with an over-flow to drain away surplus water. Alternatively bite drinkers can be used. Some crates also have a tap to fill the trough after feeding, an excellent procedure. Welfare codes recommend that all pigs should have access to clean water at all times. Sucking piglets drink little water during the first two weeks, but to comply with the codes a small drinker should be attached to the crate or pen wall for the piglets. Water should be made available in small dishes for the first 48 hour after farrowing.

Feed - This is fed in the trough to appetite throughout lactation.

Group size - The numbers of farrowing pens in any one house or section should be restricted to the numbers of sows that farrow in any one week up to a maximum of twelve.

Bedding - This should be available in the creep area for the first 10 - 14 days after farrowing.

Temperature - Creep area - This should be capable of being maintained at between 20 - 34ºC (68 - 93ºF). The farrowing house should be maintained at 22ºC (72ºF) during farrowing and between 20 - 21ºC (68 - 70ºF) during lactation although some houses are operated much lower.

Management, welfare and disease

The welfare and management requirements in the farrowing house are many both during farrowing and throughout the sucking period. You are referred to chapter 7 for further details. There is pressure from elements of the welfare lobby for farrowing crates to be banned because they deny sows freedom to express natural behaviours (i.e. to make a nest, hide away, and move freely). This pressure should be resisted strongly by the industry. In the farrowing house the sow is not the only concern. The welfare of the piglets and of the stockpeople must also be considered for the following reasons:

  • Trials carried out on free choice farrowing accommodation in the UK resulted in piglet mortality levels of 25-50%, which is totally unacceptable considering mortality in crates should be less than 8%.
  • The attendants are at risk from protective sows some of which can be highly dangerous at or just after farrowing.
  • It is difficult to examine and treat the piglets with iron injections or anti scour remedies etc. and the sows for mastitis or metritis.

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