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System Design Criteria

Traingle of NeedsHow Do You Design A Free Farrowing System?

Any system designer should ask the questions who are the main users and what are the main functions? The users are effectively the clients and in the case of livestock systems the clients interacting with the system 100% of the time are the animals, the next largest users are the stockworkers.

So a farrowing system should satisfy the "Triangle of Needs" between the sow, her piglets and the stockworkers.

By returning to first principles and asking what the biological needs of the animals are we can determine which design criteria might meet those needs whilst in the framework of a sustainable farming enterprise.

What are the Biological Needs of the Sow?

Sow needs are likely to change throughout the different phases of farrowing namely; Nest-Building, Farrowing, Early Lactation and Late Lactation.

Sow with pigletsFor Nest-Building the sow needs:

  • Space
  • Substrate
  • Isolation
  • Thermal Comfort

The importance of nest-building is discussed in our Why Free Farrowing pages and our Nest-Building Research pages.

Essentially nest-building behaviour prepares the sow for the farrowing and early lactation phases where she needs:

  • Undisturbed nest site
  • Thermal comfort
  • Udder comfort

During late lactation the sow's needs change, she requires:

  • Space to gradually reduce contact with her piglets

As part of a successful life history strategy the sow also needs her piglets to survive.

What are the Biological Needs of the Piglets?

PigletsEssentially what do they need to survive? Much of their fate will be reliant on good maternal behaviour, therefore design criteria that satisfy the sow's biological needs are also linked to the piglets.

During Farrowing and Early Lactation the piglets need:

  • Thermal comfort
  • Easy and almost constant udder access
  • Protection

During Late Lactation the piglets' and sow's needs become increasingly divergent. The piglets' need:

  • Thermal comfort
  • Udder access
  • Protection
  • Enrichment (nutritional and environmental)
  • Social integration

What are the Needs of the Stockworker?

  • Farmer with pigletsGood piglet survival
  • Efficient working environment
  • Safe working environment
  • Cost effective working environment

Our Specific Pen Features pages have recommendations on design criteria that can help achieve these objectives.

For recommendations on how best to manage sows in free farrowing systems and optimise piglet survival please visit Free Farrowing Husbandry.

Further Reading

We have written an extensive review on design criteria that meet the biological needs of the sows and piglets in alternative farrowing and lactation systems. This paper brings together over 30 years of research in this area by many different research groups. Please visit Baxter et al. or get in touch.

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