Alternatives to the Farrowing Crate?

UK - Which way for farrowing crates? A possible peep into the future was provided for pig producers by an independent Swiss pig adviser, Thomas Zanotelli, at a packed meeting of the Suffolk Pig Discussion Group, sponsored by Quality Equipment.
calendar icon 10 March 2009
clock icon 3 minute read

Michael Mattmüller (left) of Quality Equipment with independent pig adviser, Thomas Zanotelli, at the Suffolk Pig Discussion Group.

Following the ban on sow stalls in the UK, increasing attention is now being focused on the use of farrowing crates. Switzerland’s small, but efficient, pig industry has to comply with some of the tightest welfare regulations in Europe and employs a range of ‘freedom’ farrowing systems, designed to protect piglets without confining the sow.

Giving the event a distinctly international flavour, Mr Zanotelli, who speaks little English explained through Quality Equipment’s Michael Mattmüller, who acted as interpreter, that Switzerland has a national pig herd of 1,634,800 with 150,000 sows. There are 11,200 farms with pigs so these are mainly small herds on family farms.

Feed is expensive because the government protects Swiss production with heavy subsidies, and this includes levies on imports. So finisher diets cost about 3322 per tonne. Pigs are finished at around 102 kg liveweight and fetch 3190- 3200. All farms have to comply with strict welfare codes, but there are premiums of up to 315 per pig produced on farms that are especially welfare friendly, to encourage such systems. These are paid by the supermarkets which entitles them to use a special label.

Many different designs were shown, some incorporating — as well as straw bedding — unusual features, such as rough, ridged walls against which the sow can lean to lower herself down gently to avoid flopping on her piglets. Vertical bars incorporated at an angle into the walls of other pens also served a similar purpose, while horizontal rails — similar to ‘farrowing rails’ seen on UK farms in the 1960s and 1970s — were employed to provide safety areas for piglets.

One design provided three separate temperature areas to suit both sows and piglets and many relied heavily on boxed-in, well-insulated and heated creep areas to encourage piglets away from the sow, and the danger of overlying, when not suckling.

Mr Zanotelli pointed out that simply relying on heat lamps meant that the weakest pigs were left to die in the coldest areas, but an even temperature can be maintained with boxed designs, especially those having curtains, which allow piglets to poke their head through for fresh air.

Switzerland has to import meat to satisfy local demand, but unlike ambiguous packaging in Britain, there are strict labelling regulations. The Swiss mark is only allowed on packaging if the animal from which the meat comes, has actually been produced in Switzerland with its strict welfare codes.

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