Research looks at farrowing crate alternatives

DEFRA has invested in a major new research project looking at commercially-viable alternatives to farrowing crates.

The study, carried out by Newcastle University and SAC Edinburgh and costing £690,000 over three years, will involve a basic layout with four combinations of design and management.

The evaluation of prototypes is now under way, with the basic design involving a free access “nest” area, a dunging area and a lockable feeding stall. The nest will also incorporate specific features such as sloping walls to help control sow lying behaviour and a heated creep area.

The research comes after growing media attention on sow welfare in the farrowing crate, with confinement of the sow a continuing concern to the general publics, says Newcastle University’s Sandra Edwards.

“While the farrowing crate offers many benefits in management and welfare to the newborn piglet, it does cause welfare problems for the sow around the time of farrowing. It is increasingly apparent consumers want a less restrictive alternative and some major retailers are already specifying this in their purchasing contracts.”

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SAC researcher Dr Emma Baxter, in a pigSAFE pen.
Prof Edwards points out that the EU has discussed future legislation on the issue, with such laws already passed in Switzerland and some Scandinavian countries.

“Our aim is to provide a commercially-viable alternative for indoor producers, which will be acceptable in terms of piglet survival, capital costs and ease of management. If we can achieve this cost-neutral option, producers could then meet market demands without incurring production penalties.”