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'Freedom farrowing' on the way

The Danish pig industry is aiming to have 10% of Danish sows suckling their young in ‘loose’ or ‘freedom farrowing’ pens by 2020. This issue recently received a higher profile in the UK as two ‘freedom farrowing’ projects received formal accolades for their pioneering work.

While loose housing of pregnant sows has been grabbing a lot of headlines this year, as the deadline for the EU ban on sow stalls approaches, it is emerging that the next major item on the pig welfare agenda will be the transition to ‘loose ‘ farrowing systems.

Traditional farrowing pens are commonplace in indoor pig production systems across Europe, including Denmark and Britain. Although these pens restrict the movement of sows while they suckle their piglets, the mortality of piglets during the first few days of life is significantly lower than other systems available to producers.

The Danish pig industry is committed to a goal of having 10% of pens to be of the ‘freedom farrowing’ type by 2020, representing 30,000 sow places. The Danish Pig Research Centre has been engaged in a major research project to identify systems, which will afford the sow freedom of movement but, at the same time, will not compromise the welfare of piglets, by exposing them to greater risk of being laid on by the mothering sow. Although the testing is not completed, Danish researchers are confident that they are close to finding solutions, which they can recommend to producers. In addition, many Danish farmers are now conducting their own trials with ‘freedom farrowing’ pens to familiarise themselves with the new management disciplines required. The issue of ‘freedom farrowing’ has also been widely debated in British pig industry circles, with similar concerns expressed about the need to introduce systems which do not put the welfare of piglets at higher risk.

The Compassion in World Farming 'Good Farm Animal Awards' recognised Sainsbury’s sponsorship of their Pig Concept Farm, which is trialling an indoor free-farrowing system. Sainsbury received their ‘Good Pig Award’ despite the CIWF traditional antipathy towards most aspects of indoor pig production The farm in Driffield in Yorkshire is owned by David and Susan Morgan, who recently won the Farmers Weekly Pig Farmer of the Year award.

CIWF also presented a ‘Good Sow Award’ to Midland Pig Producers for their work with their ‘360 Farrower’ system, which keeps the sow confined for four days after farrowing but then releases the sow into a larger area for the remainder of the suckling period. As reported in the Meat Trades Journal, the CIWF award was criticised by a number of other animal rights campaigners, including The Pig Business.