The health and welfare of sows in outdoor systems

calendar icon 9 November 2018
clock icon 4 minute read

The general welfare requirements to maintain healthy outdoor pigs are similar to those required for indoor production, but are often more difficult to control when they occur. However a greater management input is required during extremes of weather, for example the provision of water during periods of freezing. During wet periods extra bedding is essential in both the dry sow and farrowing huts. Huts should be sited on higher ground during periods of snow and heavy rainfall. Adequate shade and wallows must be provided in the summer.

Design requirements

Site - It is vital that the ground used is light, free draining and flat. Ideally the soil should be sandy but chalk and gravel are also satisfactory. The site should be low lying in a valley rather than on a hill, be in an area of low wind and have good vehicular access. The huts for dry sows should be approximately 2.5-3m, hold four to six sows and face away from the prevailing wind.

Water - This should be available in troughs which should be no more than a short walking distance for suckling sows.

Feed - This should be presented on the ground in the form of cobs dropped along a line. Feeding lines should be at least 3m apart and change frequently.

Stocking rate - There should be 15 to 20 sows per hectare (6 to 8 sows per acre).

Bedding - Farrowing huts should be placed on the higher parts of the land and bedded twice weekly with straw. They should also be checked daily for draughts and wet floors.

Temperature - Outdoor pig breeding can only be carried out efficiently in temperate climates and ideally all the huts should be insulated. However due to the small cubic capacity of dry sow huts and the heat given off by groups of sows there are usually less problems here in maintaining adequate temperatures.

Wallows - There should be two in each paddock near the fence line so that they can be used alternatively to allow drying for disease control. Not only do they help to cool sows in hot weather but they also allow sows to cake their skins with mud to prevent sunburn.

Shade - This must be provided to lessen the effects of strong direct sunlight.

Management, welfare and disease

Outdoor systems have a major disadvantage in that the sows can only be managed as groups rather than individuals. Generally if there is a welfare problem it is due to climate and therefore involves the group as a whole. Feed intake and quality of feed are important in relation to disease, the maintenance of body condition and reproductive performance. It is very important to feed sows well in summer and autumn to provide good fat cover for the winter. Routine control of lice, mange and worms is essential in maintaining the health and welfare of the group. In periods of inclement weather piglets suffer due to cold and wet conditions and increased trauma by the sow. Foxes, crows and other large birds often cannibalise piglets. Three strand electric fences will deter foxes.

Fortunately disease problems in outdoor herds tend to be less but parasite burdens can become a problem on permanently grazed pastures. The identification and treatment of sick piglets can be difficult.

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