02 June 2023

Free farrowing sows at a Walloon breeder's!  

Prototypes for farrowing pens that allow the animal to move freely have returned results and meet the objectives

In 2021, the European Commission committed to eliminating the use of cages for animals in the EU by the end of 2023. Germany has announced that the use of permanent cages will be prohibited by 2035, and only partial confinement for five days after farrowing in pens measuring at least 6.5 m2 will be allowed. The obligation to provide farrowing pens that allow free movement for sows is spreading in many European countries.


In 2019, as part of the ‘MBconfort ’ project, the CRA-W installed two WelCon Bio (Schauer®) pens that allow complete freedom of movement for the entire duration of the maternity process, from farrowing to lactation, for sows at an organic pig farmer’s. The goal of the project was to allow breeders to discover them on site, to adopt practices being developed in other countries and to test them at the local level. Housing with straw allows sows to nest appropriately in the pen, which is associated with control of stress hormones, which has a positive impact on oxytocin levels and, as a result, on stress before and after farrowing and favourable vitality of the piglets.


The demands of the COVID and African swine flu periods will have compromised the goal of the on-site meetings, but the appreciation of the breeder and the results have been noted. Of the 19 agreed-upon assessment criteria, the criteria that received the worst feedback concern the difficulty of entering the pen, intervening during farrowing and removing waste from the inner area, as the sow is more reactive. However, the breeder wants to continue keeping their sows in a space with total freedom, even those that are difficult. They are delighted with how the two pens work. The sows adapt very quickly to the housing. In terms of performance, 202 litters were recorded on the farm between June 2019 and January 2023, some of which were recorded on video. The Welcon pens allowed more piglets to be weaned per litter (9.15; n = 34), while the number of live births was slightly lower compared to classic pens, which were located right beside the pens during breeding, with some contention around farrowing (66 ; n = 168). In terms of behaviour within Welcon pens, the construction of the nest lasted 11.5 hours. The sows primarily farrowed in the ideal position, lying along the anti-crushing bar (32%), and they spend 79% of their time resting. They nurse almost exclusively indoors for the first five days after farrowing. They then use the outdoor space with their piglets.

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