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Welfare Legislation

EU logoThe following pages summarise the statutory requirements as well as the codes of recommendations for housing pigs that specifically relate to farrowing and lactation systems. It is expected that producers are aware of all regulations relating to general conditions for keeping pigs (i.e. providing sufficient feed and ad libitum water). However where there are general requirements on flooring, lighting and noise levels that would affect the welfare of animals in the farrowing house these regulations have also been highlighted.

Further information on any aspect of the animal welfare legislation at EU and national level can be found in the relevant links highlighted throughout this page.

What You Need to Know

Current EU legislation for farrowing and lactating sows and their piglets:

This information is taken from the EU pig welfare directive which lays down the minimum standards for the protection of pigs.

Sows and Gilts

  • "In the week before the expected farrowing time sows and gilts must be given suitable nesting material in sufficient quantity unless it is not technically feasible for the slurry system used in the establishment"
  • "An unobstructed area behind the sow or gilt must be available for the ease of natural or assisted farrowing"
  • "Farrowing pens where sows are kept loose must have some means of protecting the piglets, such as farrowing rails."

Remember that the exemption on providing substrate if the slurry system does not allow is only in relation to the nest building period before farrowing. The general legislation states that “Member States shall ensure that … sows and gilts have permanent access to manipulable material at least complying with the relevant requirements” which are:

"Materials must be of a type and of sufficient quantity to enable proper investigation and manipulation activities, for example: straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture of such, which does not compromise the health of the animals." AHDB Pork have published practical guidance on manipulable materials.


  • "A part of the total floor, sufficient to allow the animals to rest together at the same time, must be solid or covered with a mat, or be littered with straw or any other suitable material."
  • "Where a farrowing crate is used, the piglets must have sufficient space to be able to be suckled without difficulty."
  • "No piglets shall be weaned from the sow at less than 28 days of age unless the welfare or health of the dam or the piglet would otherwise be adversely affected."

"However, piglets may be weaned up to seven days earlier if they are moved into specialised housings which are emptied and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before the introduction of a new group and which are separated from housings where sows are kept, in order to minimise the transmission of diseases to the piglets."

  • Tail docking, teeth clipping, castration:

    "Neither tail-docking nor reduction of corner teeth (i.e. uniform reduction of corner teeth by either grinding or clipping resulting in a smooth surface) must be carried out routinely but only where there is evidence that injuries to sows’ teats or to other pigs’ ears or tails have occurred. Before carrying out these procedures, other measures shall be taken to prevent tail-biting and other vices, taking into account environment and stocking densities. For this reason inadequate environmental conditions or management systems must be changed." These procedures are not to be carried out beyond the 7th day of life.

    "Tail-docking and/or castration must not be performed after seven days of age unless performed under anaesthetic and additional prolonged anaesthesia by a veterinarian." The method of castration must not involve tearing of tissues.

Find out more detail on the requirements in legislation which relate to mutilations.

General Requirements


"The accommodation for pigs must be constructed in such a way as to allow the animals to: have access to a lying area physically and thermally comfortable as well as adequately drained and clean which allows all the animals to lie at the same time”.

Floors must be:

  • "Smooth but not slippery so as to prevent injury to the pigs and so designed, constructed and maintained as not to cause injury or suffering to pigs";
  • "Suitable for the size and weight of the pigs";
  • "If no litter is provided, form a rigid, even and stable surface."

Remember: flooring in farrowing and lactation systems must implement the regulations necessary for the youngest stock using that flooring. Therefore if concrete slats are used, the legal requirements on minimum slat widths and slat width openings for piglets are:

  • Slat widths:
    • minimum = 50mm
  • Slat width openings:
    • maximum = 11mm


  • "Animals kept in buildings must not be kept either in permanent darkness or without an appropriate period of rest from artificial lighting. Where the natural light available is insufficient to meet the physiological and ethological needs of the animals, appropriate artificial lighting must be provided."
  • “Pigs must be kept in light with an intensity of at least 40 lux for a minimum period of eight hours per day.”

Noise Levels

  • "Pigs shall not be exposed to constant or sudden noise."
  • "Noise levels above 85 dBA shall be avoided in that part of any building where pigs are kept."

National Legislation


The Animal Welfare Act 2006 contains the general laws relating to animal welfare.

The welfare of all farmed animals is protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal. The Act also contains a duty of care to animals - anyone responsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to make sure the animal’s welfare needs are met.

The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 (WOFAR) set minimum standards for all farm animals. It implements EU Council Directives 98/58/EC and 2008/120/EC (as amended and shown in the EU section above).

Schedule 8 of this act refers specifically to pigs. Parts 4 and 5 refer to farrowing regulations for sows, gilts and piglets and essentially replicates the European Legislation (see above).

Welfare Codes 1Current Code of Recommendations

The UK government set down a specific code of recommendation for the welfare of pigs which includes sections on sows and piglets during farrowing and lactation. For the welfare code relating to all aspects of pig keeping see Code of Recommendation for the Welfare of Livestock: Pigs.

Welfare codes do not lay down statutory requirements but you are legally obliged to ensure that all staff attending your pigs are familiar with - and have access to - the welfare code for pigs. The codes may also be used to back up legislative requirements, eg where a person is accused of a welfare offence, failure to comply with the provisions of the welfare code may be relied on by the prosecution to establish guilt.

Other Countries in Europe

In Switzerland, Sweden and Norway use of a farrowing crate is prohibited. To our knowledge no other countries have unilaterally banned their use.

Animal Welfare Acts that detail domestic law for each country may have specific welfare requirements that should be adhered to. Any of these countries that belong to the EU should firstly comply with EU council directives. Those of relevance are:

  • Council Directive 98/58/EC on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes
  • Council Directive 2008/120/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs

Rest of the World

We are not aware of national legislation relating to farrowing accommodation in the major pig producing countries outside Europe, though some have Codes of Recommendations drawn up by government and industry to document good practice.

Further Information

These pages have highlighted the rules, in addition we have put together best practice recommendations specifically for free farrowing design criteria and management (which conform with legislation and welfare codes) to assist farmers with building and running these systems. Please visit out Specific Pen Features pages and our Free Farrowing Husbandry pages.

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