Kinane, O., Butler, F., O’Driscoll, K. 2021. Freedom to grow: Improving sow welfare also benefits piglets. Animals 11(4), 1181.

Piglet mortality, especially due to crushing, is a concern in pig production. While current systems use farrowing crates to reduce mortality, they present major animal welfare problems for the sow. This study investigated the effects of free lactation farrowing accommodation on the welfare of piglets born and reared in such accommodation when compared with conventional farrowing crates. Piglets were born to sows in one of two farrowing accommodation treatments and followed from birth to slaughter. Treatments were conventional farrowing crates (control, n = 24 litters) and free lactation pens, which were larger and allowed the sow freedom of movement both pre and post farrowing, (free, n = 22 litters) (675 total piglets). Individual weights were recorded from birth to slaughter. Hoof score was recorded at weaning. Behaviour was recorded during lactation and during the weaner stage. Pre-weaning percentage mortality was equal in treatments (free = 15.95 ± 2.31, control = 14.42 ± 2.15, p = 0.61). Final weight was influenced by treatment (p < 0.05) with pigs from free lactation pens significantly heavier at 114.73 kg compared to 110.82 kg for control pigs. Free pigs took fewer days than control pigs to reach the target weight of 105 kg (147.6 vs. 149.23 days). Throughout lactation, fewer instances of damaging behaviour (ear and tail biting) were observed in free pigs (p = 0.07). Improved growth rates and a decrease in damaging behaviours provide evidence to suggest that pigs from free lactation pens experience improved welfare when compared with control pigs.

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