Outdoor systems require suitable land-type where the soil allows good drainage. Outdoor systems are usually individual huts or arks placed within individual farrowing paddocks.
In general outdoor systems use a different genotype for their dam-line (e.g. Duroc) in order to enhance mothering abilities. The system relies on minimal assistance from stockpeople to manage neonatal piglets.
The sow is given:
- Freedom of movement at all times
- Opportunity to withdraw from herd to farrow
- Undisturbed nest-site
- Opportunity to nest-build
- Deep straw bed for farrowing
- Opportunity to forage
- Separate dunging, nesting and feeding areas
- Opportunity to physically contact other sows
- Opportunity to withdraw from piglets
The piglets are given:
- Deep straw bed for thermal and physical comfort
- Opportunity to forage
- Opportunity to mix with litters pre-weaning
Satisfying the staffs’ needs for a safe working environment and ability to manage animal health and welfare will be dependent on whether the farrowing hut has safety provisions (e.g. lock-out/in mechanism) and will depend on the management protocols of a particular farm (e.g. non-cross-fostering policy, only vaccinate at weaning, etc.)
How to build a farrowing hut/ark
Usually huts are built so that they are wider at the bottom than at the top. This angular structure means that sows cannot lie flush against the side walls, creating a pocket of space around the base of the hut to help lower the risk of piglets being trapped.
Typical hut description:
- Double-skinned insulated wooden frame
- Floor dimensions = 2.22m x 1.39m
- Roof dimensions = 2.22m x 1.22m
- Height 1.09m at lowest point, 1.15m at heighest point
- Fender dimensions = 1.00m x 1.07m, height 0.46m
- Door has movable wind-flap
- Half-door hatch at back of hut for piglet inspection and ventilation
- Large eye screws positioned centre at either end of hut for easy lifting to new site each batch
- Lock-in/lock-out detachable gate for front door
Alternative outdoor designs:
There are innovative designs such as the Aardvark and Armadillo systems by Con-tented products. These are built more like arks and have the same safety features recommended for building a hut. A useful design feature of the Aardvarks is a fender with an integrated drinker for piglets.
In general outdoor management to optimise piglet survival relies on good mothering ability, therefore selecting genotypes for this trait (e.g. Duroc) is important. Outdoor systems also provide optimal design criteria to stimulate good maternal behaviour (please visit our Why Free Farrowing? and System Design Criteria pages for more information).
If you would like more information about best practices for outdoor management of farrowing and lactating sows view our Stockperson’s guide.