9 July 1999

Cambac trial after alternatives

AMID rising pressure from the RSPCA, retailers and customers to find alternatives to farrowing crates, a £400,000 Cambac trial launched last week should give producers confidence to make decisions based on facts rather than emotion.

Cambac research director, Jane Guise, says: "We need to look at the whole picture, not just piglet mortality. Economics, labour, microbial cleanliness as well as sow movement, comfort and entertainment will all be looked at."

The Cambac project will compare three systems with different combinations of bedding and slats. These are the traditional farrowing crate, a hinged crate which can be opened two to five days after farrowing, and a modified Solari system which gives the sow complete freedom of movement.

These producer-developed alternatives were discovered by Reading student Andrew Maynard as part of his PhD research. Believing more detailed research was necessary, Dr Guise secured funding from a wide range of industry sponsors including Tesco, Malton Bacon and the MLC.

Launching the trial, farm animal welfare Minister, Elliot Morley, welcomed the research. "I am delighted this work is being done, as it tackles a long-standing welfare problem. It is in the interests of pregnant sows to have freedom to move around, but I also recognise piglet welfare must be protected."

One of the systems to be used in the trial was developed by Wallingford, Oxon, producer John Beacroft, who has 750 sows. Mr Beacroft developed a hinged crate at the request of his welfare-conscious wife, who does the farrowing. But producers using this system need to be on the ball, he warns.

"We have been using the system for two or three years. The crate is opened two to five days after farrowing when the risk of overlaying is low. Old floppy sows and gilts may need to be kept in the crate longer."

The other alternative trialled – idea of producer Ian Chorlton – is now made by Trobridge. This system is comparable to an outdoor unit with a kennel, complete with farrowing rails along each side to minimise overlying. It also has a heated piglet creep area and slatted or solid run for loafing and dunging.

Preliminary work on the systems indicates that producing even piglets could be the biggest technical challenge with the alternative systems, says Dr Guise. "The traditional farrowing crate is a technically easy system and produces clean, even pigs. Sows are also very calm, lying down to suckle piglets.

"Competition between piglets increases in the less restricted systems and can lead to greater variability in size." &#42