From an animal welfare standpoint, much focus has been placed on assessing how the sow’s environment during farrowing can negatively or positively impact welfare for the sow.
This has been primarily focused on improving the ability for the sow to perform nest building (a complex set of behaviours driven by hormonal regulation and environmental feedback). To do this, the design of the farrowing crate has changed with greater freedom of movement provided by larger pens and substrate such as straw given to the sow prior to parturition.
But this solution for the sow comes with some disadvantages to the piglet and the producer.
From the piglet standpoint, the greatest challenge with implementing loose house or modified crate farrowing systems deals with piglet mortality.
From the producer standpoint, loose housing systems are difficult to implement in already established barn infrastructure and dramatically change the available space needed for the same number of sows.
So what other options can we implement to improve welfare in farrowing? From the sow perspective, much work is being conducted to provide a larger pen that is feasible for the sow and the producer.
The Danish Swine Research Centre (SEGES) has recently announced the opening of their Farrowing Showroom. The research centre welcomes visitors to the showroom to observe and discuss 10 different farrowing pens currently being tested by the group.
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These farrowing pens provide a variety of options to allow the producer to maintain some flexibility during farrowing including: ability to confine sow, protected creep area for the piglet, ability to provide nesting material in solid floor system and safe working area for employees.
This showroom provides producers and those in the swine industry the option to see these loose systems in action and talk directly with experts on how to best implement these pens into a commercial system. Although the US has not yet set the stage for introducing loose farrowing systems into commercial swine units, we are likely not far behind.
The Danish swine research centre will be a critical resource utilised by swine producers internationally to make the adjustments to loose house to improve sow welfare while not compromising piglet welfare.