How 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.
For Nest-Building the sow needs:
- Thermal Comfort
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?
Essentially 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
During Late Lactation the piglets’ and sow’s needs become increasingly divergent. The piglets’ need:
- Thermal comfort
- Udder access
- Enrichment (nutritional and environmental)
- Social integration
What are the needs of the stock worker?
- Good 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.
These references are relevant for system design criteria and are arranged in descending date order.
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- Perin, J., Gaggini, T.S., Manica, S., Magnabosco, D., Bernardi, M.L., Wentz, I. and Bortolozzo, F.P., 2016. Evaporative snout cooling system on the performance of lactating sows and their litters in a subtropical region. Ciência Rural, 46: 342-347. https://doi.org/10.1590/0103-8478cr20141693
- Peltoniemi, O.A.T. and Oliviero, C., 2015. Housing, management and environment during farrowing and early lactation. In Farmer, C. (ed) The gestating and lactating sow. Wageningen Academic Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands, pp 77-84. https://doi.org/10.3920/978-90-8686-803-2_10
- Baxter, E.M., Adeleye, O.O., Jack, M.C., Farish, M., Ison, S.H. and Edwards, S.A., 2015. Achieving optimum performance in a loose-housed farrowing system for sows: the effects of space and temperature. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 169: 9-16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2015.05.004
- Larsen, M.L.V. and Pedersen, L.J., 2015. Does light attract piglets to the creep area? Animal, 9: 1032-1037. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731115000257
- Westin, R., Holmgren, N., Hultgren, J. and Algers, B., 2014. Large quantities of straw at farrowing prevents bruising and increases weight gain in piglets. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 115: 181-190. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.prevetmed.2014.04.004
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- Pedersen, L.J., Malmkvist, J. and Andersen, H.M.L., 2013. Housing of sows during farrowing: a review on pen design, welfare and productivity. In Livestock housing: Modern management to ensure optimal health and welfare of farm animals. Wageningen Academic Publishers. pp. 285-297. https://doi.org/10.3920/978-90-8686-771-4_05
- Edwards, S.A., Brett, M., Seddon, Y.M., Ross, D., Baxter, E.M., 2012. Evaluation of nest design and nesting substrate options for the PigSAFE free farrowing pen. Proc. British Society of Animal Science, p7.
- Malmkvist, J., Pedersen, L.J., Kammersgaard, T.S. and Jørgensen, E., 2012. Influence of thermal environment on sows around farrowing and during the lactation period. Journal of Animal Science, 90: 3186-3199. https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2011-4342
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- Baxter, E.M., Lawrence, A.B. and Edwards, S.A., 2011. Alternative farrowing systems: design criteria for farrowing systems based on the biological needs of sows and piglets. Animal, 5: 580-600. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731111001224
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- Vasdal, G., Glærum, M., Melišová, M., Bøe, K.E., Broom, D.M., and Andersen, I.L., 2010. Increasing the piglets’ use of the creep area – A battle against biology? Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 125: 96-102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2010.04.010
- Malmkvist, J., Damgaard, B.M., Pedersen, L.J., Jørgensen, E., Thodberg, K., Chaloupková, H. and Bruckmaier, R.M., 2009. Effects of thermal environment on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis hormones, oxytocin, and behavioural activity in periparturient sows. Journal of Animal Science, 87: 2796-2805. https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2008-1592
- Zoric, M., Nilsson, E., Lundeheim, N. and Wallgren, P., 2009. Incidence of lameness and abrasions in piglets in identical farrowing pens with four different types of floor. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 51: 23. https://doi.org/10.1186/1751-0147-51-23
- Moustsen, V. and Jensen, T., 2008. Inventar til forbedring af hygiejne i stier til løsgående farende og diegievende søer. Dansk Svineproduktion, Axeltorv, Denmark.
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- Damm, B.I., Moustsen, V., Jørgensen, E., Pedersen, L.J., Heiskanen, T. and Forkman, B., 2006. Sow preferences for walls to lean against when lying down. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 99: 53-63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2005.09.014
- Malmkvist, J., Pedersen, L.J., Damgaard, B.M., Thodberg, K., Jørgensen, E., and Labouriau, R., 2006. Does floor heating around parturition affect the vitality of piglets born to loose housed sows? Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 99: 88–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2005.10.007
- Van Wagenberg, A.V., Van der Peet-Schwering, C.M.C., Binnendijk, G.P. and Claessen, P.J.P.W., 2006. Effect of floor cooling on farrowing sow and litter performance: field experiment under Dutch conditions. Transactions of the ASABE, 49: 1521-1527. https://doi.org/10.13031/2013.22044
- Moustsen, V.A., and Poulsen, H.L., 2004. Anbefalinger vedr. dimensioner på fareboks og kassesti. Landsudvalget for Svin, Danske Slagterier, Notat nr. 414
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- Rantzer, D. and Svendsen, J., 2001. Slatted versus solid floors in the dung area of farrowing pens: Effects on hygiene and pig performance, birth to weaning. Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica, Section A-Animal Science, 51:167-174. https://doi.org/10.1080/09064700120126
- Boyle, L.A., Regan, D., Leonard, F.C., Lynch, P.B. and Brophy, P., 2000. The effect of mats on the welfare of sows and piglets in the farrowing house. Animal Welfare, 9: 39-48.
- Courboulay, V., le Roux, A., Collin, F., Dutertre, C. and Rousseau, P., 2000. Incidence du type de sol en maternite sue le confort de la truie et des porcelets. Journees de Recherche Porcine en France, 32: 115–122. https://ifip.asso.fr/sites/default/files/pdf-documentations/jrp2000c03courboulay.pdf
- Quiniou, N. and Noblet, J., 1999. Influence of high ambient temperatures on performance of multiparous lactating sows. Journal of Animal Science, 77: 2124-2134. https://doi.org/10.2527/1999.7782124x
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- Black, J.L., Mullan, B.P., Lorschy, M.L. and Giles, L.R., 1993. Lactation in the sow during heat stress. Livestock Production Science, 35:153-170. https://doi.org/10.1016/0301-6226(93)90188-N
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- Hunt, K., and Petchey, A.M., 1987. A study of the environmental preferences of sows around farrowing. Farm Building Progress, 89: 11-14.
- Stansbury, W.F., McGlone, J.J. and Tribble, L.F., 1987. Effects of season, floor type, air temperature and snout coolers on sow and litter performance. Journal of Animal Science, 65: 1507-1513. https://doi.org/10.2527/jas1987.6561507x
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