One of the main concerns with free farrowing systems is whether they will perform as well as conventional farrowing crate systems.
In particular, farmers want to know what the key performance indicators are for each system.
What are the key performance indicators (KPIs)?
- Total mortality (% of stillborn + number of live-born piglet deaths)
- Live-born mortality (% of live-born piglet deaths, often termed pre-weaning mortality)
- Stillborn (% of piglets born dead)
- Number born alive
- Total born
- Total number weaned
These are the main KPIs reported from trials. Additional information that would be valuable is weaning weight, sow rebreeding efficiency and sow weight loss. However these data are rarely reported.
Some of the systems operating currently (described in our Farrowing Systems pages) have released KPI information specific to that system and there are links on their individual pages for that information so please visit Farrowing Systems.
Large scale industry and research trials
Two large scale industry and research trials have been completed in Denmark and Austria. Both have tested different temporary crating systems. The Pro-SAU project also looked at the critical time window for opening temporary crating systems for lactation.
View the Pro-SAU report
The Danish pig industry has set a goal that 10% of all nursing sows must be accommodated in a loose housed system by 2021, as a part of the efforts to reach the goal SEGES Pig Research Centre (PRC) has built a research centre in cooperation with a Danish pig producer.
The aim of the product test is to increase the synergy and progress in the development of sturdy and competitive farrowing pens for loose sows. Furthermore, the research centre will help pig farmers decide on a farrowing pen for loose sows.
Ten different types of farrowing pens have been tested by employees from SEGES Pig Research Centre.
The farrowing pens are described and evaluated in relation to the staff, the sow and the piglets. The evaluation was conducted from a test record compiled by PRC. Due to an inadequate data-foundation litter results, from the different farrowing pens, were not compared.
The research centre is funded by SAF and PRC.
Focus of the product test
- The entrance and exit conditions for the sow and the staff in the pen
- Usage of confinement
- Space for the sow and piglets in the pen
- The arrangement and usage of the creep area
- Provision of feed, water, nesting material, occupation and rooting material
- The hygiene in the pen
- Injuries on the sow and piglets
- Work conditions and safety for the employees
View the final SEGES report.
Scientific publications of trial results
These references are relevant for alternative system trials and are arranged in descending date order.
- Weber, R., Burla, J-B., Jossen, M. and Wechsler, B., 2020. Piglet losses in free-farrowing pens: influence of litter size. Agrarforschung Schweiz, 11: 53-58. https://doi.org/10.34776/afs11-53e
- Ceballos, M.C., Góis, K.C.R. and Parsons, T.D., 2020. The opening of a hinged farrowing crate improves lactating sows’ welfare. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 230: 105068. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2020.105068
- Glencorse, D., Plush, K., Hazel, S., D’Souza, D. and Hebart, M., 2019. Impact of non-confinement accommodation on farrowing performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis of farrowing crates versus pens. Animals, 9: 957. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110957
- King, R.L., Baxter, E.M., Matheson, S.M. and Edwards, S.A., 2019. Consistency is key: interactions of current and previous farrowing system on litter size and piglet mortality. Animal, 13: 180-188. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731118000927
- King, R.L., Baxter, E.M., Matheson, S.M. and Edwards, S.A., 2019. Temporary crate opening procedure affects immediate post-opening piglet mortality and sow behaviour. Animal, 13: 189-197. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731118000915
- Verdon, M., Morrison, R.S. and Rault, J.L., 2019. Sow and piglet behaviour in group lactation housing from 7 or 14 days post-partum. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 214: 25-33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2019.03.001
- Verdon, M., Morrison, R.S. and Rault, J.L., 2019. Group lactation from 7 or 14 days of age reduces piglet aggression at weaning compared to farrowing crate housing. Animal, 13: 2327-2335. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731119000478
- Hansen, L.U., 2018. Test of 10 different farrowing pens for loose-housed sows. Report no. 1803. SEGES, Denmark. https://pigresearchcentre.dk/-/media/English-site/Research_PDF/Sow-and-Piglets/Erfaring_1803-UK.ashx
- Heidinger, B., Stinglmayr, J., Maschat, K., Oberer, M., Kuchling, S., Baumgartner, J., 2018. Summary of the Austrian Project “Pro-SAU”: Evaluation of Novel Farrowing Systems with Possibility for the Sow to Move. 2410:Eval. AFB Supplement zum Abschlussbericht des Projekts Pro-SAU.
- Singh, C., Verdon, M., Cronin, G.M. and Hemsworth, P.H., 2017. The behaviour and welfare of sows and piglets in farrowing crates or lactation pens. Animal, 11: 1210–1221. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731116002573
- Condous, P.C., Plush, K.J., Tilbrook, A.J. and Van Wettere, W.H.E.J., 2016. Reducing sow confinement during farrowing and in early lactation increases piglet mortality. Journal of Animal Science, 94: 3022-3029. https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2015-0145
- Hales, J., Moustsen, V.A., Nielsen, M.B.F. and Hansen, C.F., 2016. The effect of temporary confinement of hyperprolific sows in Sow Welfare and Piglet protection pens on sow behaviour and salivary cortisol concentrations. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 83: 19-27. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.07.008
- Thomsson, O., Sjunnesson, Y., Magnusson, U., Eliasson-Selling, L., Wallenbeck, A. and Bergqvist, A.S., 2016. Consequences for piglet performance of group housing lactating sows at one, two, or three weeks post-farrowing. PloS one, 11: e0156581. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0156581
- Hales, J., Moustsen, V.A., Nielsen, M.B.F. and Hansen, C.F., 2015. Temporary confinement of loose-housed hyperprolific sows reduces piglet mortality. Journal of Animal Science, 93: 4079–4088. https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2015-8973
- Ison, S.H., Wood, C.M. and Baxter, E.M., 2015. Behaviour of pre-pubertal gilts and its relationship to farrowing behaviour in conventional farrowing crates and loose-housed pens. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 170: 26-33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2015.06.004
- Martin, J.E., Ison, S.H. and Baxter, E.M., 2015. The influence of neonatal environment on piglet play behaviour and post-weaning social and cognitive development. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 163: 69-79. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2014.11.022
- van Nieuwamerongen, S.E., Soede, N.M., van der Peet-Schwering, C.M.C., Kemp, B. and Bolhuis, J.E., 2015. Development of piglets raised in a new multi-litter housing system vs. conventional single-litter housing until 9 weeks of age. Journal of Animal Science, 93: 5442-5454. https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2015-9460
- Hales, J., Moustsen, V.A., Nielsen, M.B.F. and Hansen, C.F., 2014. Higher preweaning mortality in free farrowing pens compared with farrowing crates in three commercial pig farms. Animal, 8: 113-120. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731113001869
- van Nieuwamerongen, S.E., Bolhuis, J.E., Van der Peet-Schwering, C.M.C. and Soede, N.M., 2014. A review of sow and piglet behaviour and performance in group housing systems for lactating sows. Animal, 8: 448-460. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731113002280
- Bohnenkamp, A.L., Traulsen, I., Meyer, C., Müller, K. and Krieter, J., 2013. Comparison of growth performance and agonistic interaction in weaned piglets of different weight classes from farrowing systems with group or single housing. Animal, 7: 309-315. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731112001541
- Moustsen, V.A., Hales, J., Lahrmann, H.P., Weber, P.M. and Hansen, C.F., 2013. Confinement of lactating sows in crates for 4 days after farrowing reduces piglet mortality. Animal, 7: 648-654. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731112002170
- Baxter, E.M., Lawrence, A.B. and Edwards, S.A., 2012. Alternative farrowing accommodation: welfare and economic aspects of existing farrowing and lactation systems for pigs. Animal, 6: 96-117. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731111001224
- Guy, J.H., Cain, P.J., Seddon, Y.M., Baxter, E.M. and Edwards, S.A., 2012. Economic evaluation of high welfare indoor farrowing systems for pigs. Animal Welfare, 21 Supplement 1: 19-24. https://doi.org/10.7120/096272812X13345905673520
- Oostindjer, M., van den Brand, H., Kemp, B. and Bolhuis, J.E., 2011. Effects of environmental enrichment and loose housing of lactating sows on piglet behaviour before and after weaning. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 134: 31-41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2011.06.011
- Oostindjer, M., Bolhuis, J.E., Mendl, M., Held, S., Gerrits, W., Van den Brand, H. and Kemp, B., 2010. Effects of environmental enrichment and loose housing of lactating sows on piglet performance before and after weaning. Journal of Animal Science, 88: 3554-3562. https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2010-2940
- Weber R., Keil N.M., Fehr M. & Horat R., 2009. Factors affecting piglet mortality in loose farrowing systems on commercial farms. Livestock Science 124(1–3), 216–222. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.livsci.2009.02.002
- Weber R., Keil N.M., Fehr M. & Horat R., 2007. Piglet mortality on farms using farrowing systems with or without crates. Animal Welfare 16(2), 277–279. Piglet mortality on farms using farrowing systems with or without…: Ingenta Connect
- Hötzel, M.J., Wolf, F.M. and Dalla Costa, O.A., 2004. Behaviour of sows and piglets reared in intensive outdoor or indoor systems. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 86: 27-39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2003.11.014
- Weary, D.M., Pajor, E.A., Bonenfant, M., Fraser, D., Kramer, D.L., 2002. Alternative housing for sows and litters. Part 4. Effects of sow-controlled housing combined with a communal piglet area on pre- and post-weaning behaviour and performance. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 76: 279-290. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(02)00011-4
- Wattanakul, W., Edwards, S.A., Stewart, A.H. and English, P.R., 1998. Effect of familiarity with the environment on the behaviour and performance response of sows and piglets to grouping during lactation. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 61: 25-39. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(98)00166-X
- Blackshaw, J.K., Swain, A.J., Blackshaw, A.W., Thomas, F.J.M. and Gillies, K.J., 1997. The development of playful behaviour in piglets from birth to weaning in three farrowing environments. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 55: 37–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(97)00034-8
- Wattanakul, W., Sinclair, A.G., Stewart, A.H., Edwards, S. A. and English, P.R., 1997. Performance and behaviour of lactating sows and piglets in crate and multisuckling systems: a study involving European White and Manor Meishan genotypes. Animal Science 64: 339-349. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1357729800015915
- Baxter, M.R., 1991. The Freedom Farrowing System. Farm Building Progress, 104: 9-15.
- Blackshaw, J.K. and Hagelsø, A.M., 1990. Getting-up and lying-down behaviours of loose-housed sows and social contacts between sows and piglets during Day 1 and Day 8 after parturition. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 25: 61–70. https://doi.org/10.1016/0168-1591(90)90070-T