Loftus, L., Bell, G., Padmore, E. et al. 2020. The effect of two different farrowing systems on sow behaviour, and piglet behaviour, mortality and growth. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 232, 105102.
Farrowing crates have traditionally been used to reduce occurrence of piglet mortality as a result of sow crushing. However the utilisation of traditional farrowing crates has been suggested to contribute to negative welfare for both the sow and piglets. This study compared mortality rates, weight gain and behaviour of two cohorts, Freedom Farrowing (FF) and Traditional Farrowing (TF), of sows at a commercial farm. Results indicated no significant difference in mortality rates (2-sample t-test, t24 = −0.08, p = 0.761) between systems or in weight gain of piglets (batch 1: 2-sample t-test, t12=−0.01, p = 0.993; batch 2: 2-sample t-test, t12=−0.12, p = 0.904). Behaviour of sows indicated a number of significant differences between FF and TF cohorts including TF sows spending more time lying down, χ2 (2, N = 24) = 5.69, p = 0.017 and FF sows spending more time nursing their piglets χ2 (1, N = 24) = 6.66, p = 0.01, socialising with their piglets χ2 (2, N = 24) = 12, p = 0.001 and exploring the pen χ2 (2, N = 24) = 6, p = 0.014. TF piglets spent more time lying away from the sow (lying elsewhere) χ2 (2, N = 24) = 4.78, p = 0.029 and engaging in agonistic behaviours with other piglets χ2 (2, N = 24) = 4.76, p = 0.029, whilst FF piglets spent more time feeding from the sow χ2 (1, N = 24) = 63.18, p < 0.001 and playing with other piglets χ2 (2, N = 24) = 4.37, p = 0.036. As farmed production animals it is important that management changes to improve welfare consider both economic impacts and effect on production time; the results of this study demonstrate that both mortality rates and weight gain of piglets are comparable between the two systems giving an overall advantage to the implementation of Free Farrowing pens in a pig production environment.