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Increasing the Welfare of Farrowing Pigs

15 May 2012, at 9:32am

GLOBAL - Finding ways to advance the welfare standards of farrowing pigs was a debateable topic at the British Society of Animal Science (BSAS) conference in Nottingham. Researchers studied the affects of radio and nest design on the behaviour of sows and piglets in farrowing crates.

Kayleigh Langdon of Writtle College studied the behavioural effect of radio on sows and piglets in the farrowing crate.

Ms Langdon’s experiment involved playing radio to piglets and sows for three weeks whilst in the farrowing crate. The study showed more playful behaviour in piglets that were played music than to those without radio.

There was also less response from sows to farm staff entering the crate and less abnormal behaviour. The study also showed that piglets nursed more when played music therefore benefitting the health of the piglets.

Ms Langdon concluded that playing radio did have a positive affect on the welfare of sows and piglets through increased playful behaviour and feeding.

The study by Professor Edwards of Newcastle University looked at how the design of the farrowing pen could effect nesting behaviour and farrowing location. The experiment was conducted using the free farrowing PigSAFE (Piglet and Sow Alternative Farrowing Environment) prototype design.

Through changing the amount/deepness of nest material (substrate), Professor Edwards noted that there was no real benefit to welfare and it did not affect farrowing location. The deeper nests also led to liquid manure difficulties, making them unfavourable.

Another part of the study examined how the use of a roof over the nest for noise reduction affected sow behaviour. Again it was not found to enhance welfare and farm workers found it difficult to effectively observe the sow and piglets.

The study showed that in all scenarios, the sow farrowed in the nest with the piglets close to the creep and that welfare was improved through free nesting.

In Conclusion, Professor Edwards stated that the PigSAFE design, without the changes made for the study, was beneficial for promoting farrowing in the desired location and the pen with no roof and low substrate level proved to be easier for farmers to manage whilst enhancing welfare from the normal farrowing crate.