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No farrowing crates

Natural pig farming farrowing

Natural pig farming uses an open deep bed pen system to support a sow?s natural behavior and drives when giving birth. One week before her due day the sow is separated from her pen partner and the pen is partitioned. This mirrors the normal behavioral instinct of a pregnant sow in the wild.

The sow has a hardwired need to nest build just prior to going into labour. In the wild, a sow will separate from their family group and find a secluded place to nest build. Twigs and grass are used to create a nest. Research shows that giving the sow the opportunity to go through the nest building process significantly improves delivery speed and live litter delivery. We support this need through the provision of additional flooring material in the pen and short cut straw, and through the fact we have a manipulable deep bed litter sty flooring which enables the sow dig into and build up a nest bed. It helps her preparations to give birth and sets her up for a complications free delivery.

The benefits of the natural farming systems are:

  • It enables farrowing to take place in a spacious pen that allows sow to carry out normal behavior: she can freely move around as she wishes
  • Has a deep bed flooring that:
  • allows the sow to carry out her hardwired need to nest build prior to farrowing
  • provides a pliable and comfortable flooring to lie on during the farrowing
  • provides both sow and new piglets with thermal warmth and comfort
  • provides an enriched and stimulating environment for the piglets to:
  • carry out there natural exploratory and recreational behavior
  • avoid injury due to hard and abrasive surfaces
  • explore solid food stuffs via chewing and eating rice husks
  • grow up healthily in a naturally hygienic environment

In short, we provide an in pen environment that actively caters for the natural needs of the sow and her piglets.

Watch video clip of sow nest building in natural pig farming pen

If our experience is typical sows in captivity will generally start nest building approximately 12 hours prior to actual farrowing. They get the incessant urge to move the manipulable material around (here a mixture of rice hulls and short cut straw plus a few twigs) and will eventually create a pile that they deem a comfortable place to lie. The sows will continue nest build with in increasing urgency until farrowing. During farrowing they will occasionally stand up and re-arrange the nest flooring they are lying on. You can see just from this short clip just how important this nest building activity is for the sow. We believe that by allowing the sow to carry out this behavior the chances of a troublesome farrowing is greatly reduced.

Natural pig farming provides sympathetic husbandry

We believe in giving nature free rein but provide the pig husbandry support lacking in most factory farm systems. We attend each farrowing to provide sympathetic and well judged support for the sow to help ensure problem-free farrowing with high numbers of live births. We’re on hand to immediately clear the mucous from the mouth and airways of newly born piglets, and wiping them free of the membrane. The umbilical chord is tied and cut. The piglets are put in a corner crush barrier area under a light to help provide warmth while the sow is farrowing but allowed to suckle a regular periods under supervision whilst the sow continues to farrow. For the first 24 hours we supervise the suckling to ensure all piglets get a good supply of the essential collostrum rich milk which provides the essential anti-bodies that will protect the piglets from sickness.

Farrowing crate use and piglet crushing

Factory farming uses a farrowing crate to imprison a sow prior to birth and post giving birth. The rationale is that they wish to reduce the risk of a piglet being inadvertently crushed by its mother and that the only way to do that is to incarcerate the sow in a farrowing pen. Many operations imprison the sow for up to 4 weeks. Such confinement causes huge stress and frustration on the sows who, besides being unable to move freely, are unable to carry out any of their natural behaviors. It is also a huge over-reaction totally disproportionate to the actual threat of piglet crushing and is proven to do little to alleviate the problem (see next paragraph)..

Crushing of piglets by the sow is inevitable given the huge size of todays sows and the advances in fertility that has increased litters sizes up to 14 piglets a sow. Research indicates that 10%-15% of pigs are accidentally crushed or trampled to death by sow (Arey 1997). It also shows that farrowing crates can actually increases the problem. A study by Hansen Curtis in 1980 found that farrowing crates make sows more frustrated and restless and as a result that they are more likely to crush or savage their young.

Post birth the sows inability to move, turn around or even toilet away from where she must lie add to the frustrations and restricts her ability to carry out any normal maternal behavior. The photograph below (taken by me at an agricultural show) shows a depressed and abnormally inert sow retreating to state to abject apathy in the face of farrow crate imprisonment. (My opinion based on how sows free to carry out normal behavior acts).

Natural pig farming has no need for farrowing crates

Natural pig farming does not believe that the use of farrowing crates is justified or acceptable. We don’t use them. We allow the sow to farrow in an open farrowing pen that allows total freedom of movement and natural interaction between sow and litter. The soft deep bed flooring minimizes crushing deaths and injury and provides a comfortable surface to lie on. Crush barriers around the open can be used to reduce the incidence of crushing and creep areas with light heat zones to attract piglets away from sow This system is not only higher pig welfare it is proven to be more effective at reducing piglet mortality.

The research on this is very clear - the EU Scientific Vetinary Committee’s report ‘Animal health and welfare aspects of different housing and husbandry systems for adult breeding boars, pregnant, farrowing sows and unweaned piglets’ (published October 2007), section 7.4.15, 3rd paragraph, concludes that piglet mortality is the same for loose housing and farrowing crate systems. Another study (Dunn’s study 2001) shows that piglet mortality rate is lower at day 31 with free farrowing rather than a crate farrowing: 11.3% v 12.2%.

These findings suggest the cruelty inflicted on sows using a farrowing crate system is a needless and total over-reaction to the nature and scale of the problem. We also strongly feel that the length of time a sow is kept in a farrowing crate is wrong. The risk of crushing receeds dramatically after the first 3 days of birth, as the piglets are strong enough and aware enough to avoid accidental crushing. The sow has also recovered from the tiring farrowing and quickly gains an awareness and experience of moving and lying down in ways that limits the risks. If farrowing crates are used we do not believe that they sow should be incarcerated in them for more than 4 days after farrowing.

Natural pig farming v factory farming