German farrowing crate rule pressures UK sector

Cost and productivity concerns have reignited in the UK pig sector after farrowing crate rule changes were made in Germany last week.

German farmers were told they have 15 years to cut farrowing crate times from 35 to just five days as part of a tranche of new German pig welfare guidelines.

Industry leaders say renewed government focus would now fall on UK producers to alter farrowing systems, using German regulations as leverage.

See also: How freedom farrowing pens match crates on performance

Code aiming for farrowing crate ban

The Pig Welfare Code (March 2020) states: “The aim is for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary and for any new system to protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets.”

Opposed to a ban

National Pig Association (NPA) chief executive Zoe Davies said the NPA strongly opposes a crate ban, stressing that increased costs and mortality rates are likely to come from having to alter housing.

“The NPA will be lobbying hard for temporary crating as the Germans have been given – this will give producers the security of knowing that they can protect newborn piglets and reduce mortality and make things safer for their staff,” Dr Davies told Farmers Weekly.

“Loose farrowing and multisuckling systems have mortality figures that many producers would have difficulty accepting,” she added.

She said commercial data from a free farrowing system showed a pre-weaning mortality of 19-23%. The current industry average is around 10-12%. 

However, one farm that had used temporary crating for the first four days had seen mortality of 14%, which was closer to industry averages.  

New German sow management requirements

  • Sows should be fixed in the farrowing crate for a maximum of five days
  • Farrowing pen must be 6.5sq m
  • After five days they move to a “movement bay”
  • Insemination pens must be 5sq m a sow
  • Insemination pen must have 1.3sq m lying surface area

The decision is an “enormous burden” on farmers which will accelerate the rate at which smaller farms leave the sector, said German Farmers Association president Joachim Ruckwied.

Dr Davies said the insemination crate rules did not worry UK farmers who hold sows for a maximum of four hours for the insemination procedure.

However, she said the new space requirement of 5sq m a sow could be challenging if mirrored in the UK.