Feature: Looking to the future
Pig Industry Matters visits a farrow to finish farm near Aarhus, which is conducting trials into higher welfare systems.
Niels Aage Arve, who has been farming in mid-Jutland for the past 23 years, is, like many of Denmark’s pig producers, keen to ensure that the production system in which he has invested is future-proof.
Niels Aage Arve
He has decided, therefore, to invest in loose-housing systems for nursing sows in order to comply with Denmark’s go-it-alone decision that within ten years, 10% of nursing sows will be loose-housed. Between 1-2% of sows are in loose systems today.
Chief Scientist Vivi Moustsen from Seges, which incorporates The Danish Pig Research Centre, is one of Denmark’s experts on the new housing pens for nursing sows and has been assisting Mr Arve in their design and implementation at this farm.
Two factors are of crucial importance: that the pens are commercially viable and that the welfare of both piglets and sows is protected. In this respect, one of the key areas for research is whether the higher piglet mortality rate currently associated with loose-housing systems for nursing sows can be reduced.
An important area of research at Krannestrup farm, therefore, is what factors cause a sow to accidentally kill her piglets by crushing them. As studies have so far shown that 50% of loose nursing sows are more prone to lying on their piglets, knowledge and experience is being shared with scientists in the UK in an attempt to reduce piglet mortality.
Aiming to reduce mortality levels
Krannestrup farm operates both a “Free Farrowing” pen whereby sows are loose during farrowing and the lactation period and a “SWAP” (Sow Welfare and Pig Protection) pen where sows are loose but can be confined if the farmer thinks it appropriate.
“The biggest challenge is to keep the piglets alive when the sows are not confined,” explains Niels Aage Arve, who has 10 employees, a reflection of the fact that loose-housing systems for nursing sows are more labour intensive then traditional systems.
The Danish Pig Research Centre is conducting trials at a large number of commercial farms in Denmark. Some have switched to free farrowing entirely while others still operate with some traditional farrowing pens.
As far as Dr. Moustsen is concerned, her aim is to ensure that pens for loose nursing sows are commercially viable and that producers are able to provide input into what is eventually defined as “best practice” based on their knowledge and experience.
“It’s important that politicians and NGOs understand the financial implications for pig producers whenever any new policy is introduced with long-term implications. It is clear that an increasing number of retailers are going down the freedom farrowing route and we need to ensure that we have the right systems in place to meet animal welfare requirements, while ensuring that producers are not financially disadvantaged.”