Alternative and free farrowing options for pig farms
Many alternative farrowing systems have been developed over the last decade. Below, we provide details about some of these options and signpost to further resources.
What is free farrowing?
In a traditional (conventional) farrowing crate, there are restrictions on the sow’s movements to benefit the piglets. The survival and welfare of both the sow and the piglet must be considered in any farrowing accommodation. As such, careful modification of how or when the sow moves is an important part of most alternative farrowing systems, with the exceptions of true loose housing.
Conventional farrowing crates used in indoor pig production restrain the sow to protect the piglets for the duration of the lactation stage (while the sow provides milk to the piglets). This period is approximately 28 days to comply with the UK welfare codes. When sows are not lactating, they are housed in small, unrestrained groups.
Outdoor sows also have a pen, but this is a larger area and contains an arc in which they can farrow. When not lactating, they are housed in small groups but in a pen within a field rather than in a building or barn.
All farrowing systems should be designed to optimally meet the requirements (health, safety, behaviour and welfare) of the sow, piglets and stockperson.
Transitioning to alternative farrowing systems
It is important to understand the differences between alternative and free farrowing systems. On this page we describe the different systems and provide some pros and cons for each.
Key to success with alternative and free farrowing systems
Any substantial change brings challenges. How can producers switch to free farrowing systems while meeting the needs of the sow, piglets and stockperson?
Temporary confinement farrowing systems
One of the alternatives to conventional farrowing crates is the use of temporary confinement crates. This involves enclosing the sow for a maximum of seven days and then allowing freedom of movement.
Zero confinement farrowing systems
While still housed indoors, zero confinement pens make use of zoning spaces to allow the sow to farrow and lactate without the need for confinement. What are the advantages and limitations of allowing an increase in sow access?
Group farrowing systems
The range of farrowing systems with reduced or zero confinement includes those that have a group lactation element. What does this mean in management practice, and what are the costs and benefits?
Outdoor farrowing systems
With 40% of the UK herd farrowed outdoors, these systems require specialist management, equipment and genetics. Our outdoor herd guides help advise those producers looking to move some or all of their herd outdoors.