Housing of sows during farrowing: a review on pen design, welfare and productivity

In: Livestock housing
L. J. Pedersen
Search for other papers by L. J. Pedersen in
Current site
Google Scholar
J. Malmkvist
Search for other papers by J. Malmkvist in
Current site
Google Scholar
, and
H.M.L. Andersen
Search for other papers by H.M.L. Andersen in
Current site
Google Scholar
Open Access

Housing of sows during farrowing occurs mainly in farrowing crates where the sows are confined between bars without the possibility to turn around. The existing farrowing crates are associated with a number of negative welfare consequences for sows. Furthermore, breeding more piglets in the litter, combined with the fact that sows have generally become both longer and wider over the past 15 years, means that the size of the current crates is not large enough neither to accommodate the sow nor piglets until 4 weeks after birth. Therefore, alternatives to the current farrowing crate are necessary. Pens for loose housed sows are good alternatives for the sake of sow welfare. Review of the existing literature does not suggest that loose housing is associated with higher general piglet mortality than housing in farrowing crates. Knowledge from studies on behavioural needs of sow and piglet during farrowing and lactation is reviewed and used to make general recommendations on pen design. From this knowledge, prototypes of farrowing pens have been developed and are currently tested in smaller scale in production herds. Through this, more experience is being gathered on the pens' function in practice that contribute to having the first prototypes adapted and further developed so that they become an attractive alternative to the farrowing crate for the farmer both economically and with regard to animal welfare.

  • Ahlstrom, S., Jarvis, S. and Lawrence, A.B., 2002. Savaging gilts are more restless and more responsive to piglets during the expulsive phase of parturition. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 76: 83-91.

  • Andersen, H.M.L. and Pedersen, L.J., 2011. The effect of feed trough position on choice of defecation area in farrowing pens by loose sows. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 131: 48-52.

  • Andersen, I.L., Berg, S. and Bøe, K.E., 2005. Crushing of piglets by the mother sow (Sus scrofa)-purely accidental or a poor mother? Applied Animal Behaviour Science 93: 229-243.

  • Anil, L., Anil, S.S. and Deen, J., 2002. Relationship between postural behaviour and gestation stall dimensions in relation to sow size. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 77: 173-181.

  • Bäckstrøm, L., Algers, B., Nilsson, J. and Ekesbo, I., 1994. Effect of sow housing systems on production and health. Proceedings: The 13th International Pig Vet. Soc. Congress, Bankok, Thailand, 26-30 June, p 427.

  • Barnett, J.L., Hemsworth, P.H., Cronin, G.M., Jongman, E.C. and Hutson, G.D., 2001. A review of the welfare issues for sows and piglets in relation to housing. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 52: 1-28.

  • Baxter, E.M., Jarvis, S., Sherwood, L., Robson, S.K., Ormandy, E., Farish, M., Smurthwaite, K.M., Roehe, R., Lawrence, A.B. and Edwards, S.A., 2009. Indicators of piglet survival in an outdoor farrowing system. Livestock Science 124: 266-276.

  • Baxter, M.R. and Schwaller, C.E., 1983. Space requirement for sows in confinement. In Baxter, S.H., Baxter, M.R. and MacCormack, J.A.D. (eds.) Farm animal housing and welfare. Martinus Nijhoff Publisher, the Hague, the Netherlands, pp. 1481-1495.

  • Biensen, N.J., Von Borell, E.H. and Ford, S.P., 1996. Effects of space allocation and temperature on periparturient maternal behaviors, steroid concentrations, and piglet growth rates. Journal of Animal Science 74: 2641-2648.

  • Bonde, M., Rousing, T., Badsberg, J.H. and Sørensen, J.T., 2004. Associations between lying-down behaviour problems and body condition, limb disorders and skin lesions of lactating sows housed in farrowing crates in commercial sow herds. Livestock Production Science 87: 179-187.

  • Boyle, L.A., Leonard, F.C., Lynch, P.B. and Brophy, P., 2000. Influence of housing system during gestation on the behaviour and welfare of gilts in farrowing crates. Animal Science 71: 561-570.

  • Burri, M., Wechsler, B., Gygax, L. and Weber, R., 2009. Influence of straw length, sow behaviour and room temperature on the incidence of dangerous situations for piglets in a loose farrowing system. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117: 181-189.

  • Chen, C., Gilbert, C.L., Yang, G., Guo, Y., Segonds-Pichon, A., Ma, J., Evans, G., Brenig, B., Sargent, C., Affara, N. and Huang, L., 2008. Maternal infanticide in sows: incidence and behavioural comparisons between savaging and non-savaging sows at parturition. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 109: 238-248.

  • Cronin, G.M., Dunsmore, B. and Leeson, E., 1998. The effects of farrowing nest size and width on sow and piglet behaviour and piglet survival. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 60: 331-345.

  • Cronin, G.M., Lefebure, B. and McClintock, S., 2000. A comparison of piglet production and survival in the Werribee Farrowing Pen and conventional farrowing crates at a commercial farm. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 40: 17-23.

  • Cronin, G.M., Simpson, G.J. and Hemsworth, P.H., 1996. The effects of the gestation and farrowing environments on sow and piglet behaviour and piglet survival and growth in early lactation. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 46: 175-192.

  • Curtis, S.E., Hurst, R.J., Gonyou, H.W., Jensen, A.H. and Muehling, A.J., 1989. The physical space requirement of the sow. Journal of Animal Science 67: 1242-1248.

  • Damgaard, B.M., Malmkvist, J., Pedersen, L.J., Jensen, K.H., Thodberg, K., Jorgensen, E. and Juul-Madsen, H.R., 2009. The effects of floor heating on body temperature, water consumption, stress response and immune competence around parturition in loose-housed sows. Research in Veterinary Science 86: 136-145.

  • Damm, B.I. and Pedersen, L.J., 2000. Eliminative behaviour in preparturient gilts previously kept in pens or stalls. Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica Section A-Animal Science 50: 316-320.

  • Damm, B.I., Heiskanen, T., Pedersen, L.J., Jorgensen, E. and Forkman, B., 2010. Sow preferences for farrowing under a cover with and without access to straw. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 126: 97-104.

  • Damm, B.I., Lisborg, L., Vestergaard, K.S. and Vanicek, J., 2003. Nest-building, behavioural disturbances and heart rate in farrowing sows kept in crates and Schmid pens. Livestock Production Science 80: 175-187.

  • Damm, B.I., Moustsen, V., Jorgensen, E., Pedersen, L.J., Heiskanen, T. and Forkman, B., 2006. Sow preferences for walls to lean against when lying down. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 99: 53-63.

  • Damm, B.I., Vestergaard, K.S., Schroder-Petersen, D.L. and Ladewig, J., 2000. The effects of branches on prepartum nest building in gilts with access to straw. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 69: 113-124.

  • EFSA, 2007. Scientific report on the health and welfare aspects of different housing and husbandry systems for adult boars, pregnant, farrowing sows and unweaned piglets. The EFSA Journal. 572: 1-107.

  • Gustafsson, B., 1983. Effects of sow housing systems in practical pig production. Transactions of the ASAE, 26, 1181-1185, 1193.

  • Harris, M.J. and Gonyou, H.W., 1998. Increasing available space in a farrowing crate does not facilitate postural changes or maternal responses in gilts. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 59: 285-296.

  • Harris, M.J. and Gonyou, H.W., 2003. Savaging behaviour in domestic gilts: a study of seven commercial farms. Canadian Journal of Animal Science 83: 435-444.

  • Hartsock, T. G. and Barczewski, R.A., 1997. Prepartum behavior in swine: effects of pen size. Journal of Animal Science 75: 2899-2904.

  • Herskin, M.S., Jensen, K.H. and Thodberg, K., 1998. Influence of environmental stimuli on maternal behaviour related to bonding, reactivity and crushing of piglets in domestic sows.

  • Houbak, B., Thodberg, K., Malmkvist, J. and Pedersen, L.J., 2006. Effect of pen floor heating on piglets’ use of heated area 0-120 h postpartum. Proc. 40th Int. Congr. of the ISAE, Bristol, U.K. p. 156.

  • Hrupka, B.J., Leibbrandt, V.D., Crenshaw, T.D. and Benevenga, N.J., 2000a. Effect of sensory stimuli on huddling behavior of pigs. Journal of Animal Science 78: 592-596.

  • Hrupka, B.J., Leibbrandt, V.D., Crenshaw, T.D. and Benevenga, N.J., 2000b. The effect of thermal environment and age on neonatal pig behavior. Journal of Animal Science 78: 583-591.

  • Hunt, K. and Petchey, A.M., 1989. Degree of enclosure preferred by sows around farrowing. Animal Production 48: 643.

  • Jarvis, S., D'Eath, R.B., Robson, S.K. and Lawrence, A.B., 2006. The effect of confinement during lactation on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and behaviour of primiparous sows. Physiology & Behavior 87: 345-352.

  • Jarvis, S., Lawrence, A.B., Mclean, K.A., Deans, L.A., Chirnside, J. and Calvert, S.K., 1997. The effect of environment on behavioural activity, ACTH, beta-endorphin and cortisol in pre-farrowing gilts. Animal Science 65: 465-472.

  • Jarvis, S., Reed, B.T., Lawrence, A.B., Calvert, S.K. and Stevenson, J., 2004. Peri-natal environmental effects on maternal behaviour, pituitary and adrenal activation, and the progress of parturition in the primiparous sow. Animal Welfare 13: 171-181.

  • Jarvis, S., Van der Vegt, B.J., Lawrence, A.B., Mclean, K.A., Deans, L.A., Chirnside, J. and Calvert, S.K., 2001. The effect of parity and environmental restriction on behavioural and physiological responses of preparturient pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 71: 203-216.

  • Jensen, P., 1986. Observations on the maternal behaviour of free-ranging domestic pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 16: 131-142.

  • Jensen, P., Vestergaard, K. and Algers, B., 1993. Nestbuilding in Free-Ranging Domestic Sows. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 38: 245-255.

  • KilBride, A.L., Mendl, M., Statham, P., Held, S., Harris, M., Cooper, S. and Green, L.E., 2012. A cohort study of preweaning piglet mortality and farrowing accommodation on 112 commercial pig farms in England. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 104: 281-291.

  • Lawrence, A.B., Petherick, J.C., Mclean, K., Gilbert, C.L., Chapman, C. and Russell, J.A., 1992. Naloxone prevents interruption of parturition and increases plasma oxytocin following environmental disturbance in parturient sows. Physiology & Behavior 52: 917-923.

  • Lawrence, A.B., Petherick, J.C., Mclean, K.A., Deans, L.A., Chirnside, J., Vaughan, A., Clutton, E. and Terlouw, E.M.C., 1994. The effect of environment on behavior, plasma-cortisol and prolactin in parturient sows. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 39: 313-330.

  • Leeb, B., Leeb, C., Troxler, J. and Schuh, M., 2001. Skin lesions and callosities in group-housed pregnant sows: Animal-related welfare indicators. Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica Section A-Animal Science, pp. 82-87.

  • Malmkvist, J., Damgaard, B.M., Pedersen, L.J., Jorgensen, E., Thodberg, K., Chaloupkova, H. and Bruckmaier, R.M., 2009. Effects of thermal environment on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis hormones, oxytocin, and behavioral activity in periparturient sows. Journal of Animal Science 87: 2796-2805.

  • Malmkvist, J., Pedersen, L.J., Damgaard, B.M., Thodberg, K., Jorgensen, E. and Labouriau, R., 2006. Does floor heating around parturition affect the vitality of piglets born to loose housed sows? Applied Animal Behaviour Science 99: 88-105.

  • Malmkvist, J., Pedersen, L.P., Jensen, T. and Jørgensen, E,. 2012. Influence of thermal environment on sows around farrowing and during the lactation period. Journal of Animal Science 90: 3186-3199.

  • Marchant Forde, J.N., 2002. Piglet- and stockperson-directed sow aggression after farrowing and the relationship with a pre-farrowing, human approach test. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 75: 115-132.

  • Marchant, J.N. and Broom, D.M., 1996. Effects of dry sow housing conditions on muscle weight and bone strength. Animal Science 62: 105-113.

  • Marchant, J.N., Broom, D.M. and Corning, S., 2001. The influence of sow behaviour on piglet mortality due to crushing in an open farrowing system. Animal Science 72: 19-28.

  • Marchant, J.N., Rudd, A.R. and Broom, D.M., 1997. The effects of housing on heart rate of gestating sows during specific behaviours. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 55: 67-78.

  • McGlone, J.J., Vines, B., Rudine, A.C. and DuBois, P., 2004. The physical size of gestating sows. Journal of Animal Science 82: 2421-2427.

  • Moustsen, V.A and Poulsen, H.L., 2004b. Sammenligning af produktionsresultater opnået i henholdsvis en traditionel kassesti og en sti til løsgående farende og diegivende søer. (Comparison of production results in traditional crates and pens for loose farrowing and lactating sows). Meddelelse 679. Videncenter For Svineproduktion. Available at: http://vsp.lf.dk/Publikationer/Kilder/lu_medd/2004/679.aspx.

  • Moustsen, V.A. and Duus, K.L., 2006. Søers ‘rejse og lægge sig’ bevægelse i forskellige farestier’ (The laying down and getting up movements in sows in different farrowing pens). Meddelelse 733, Landsudvalget for Svin. Available at: http://vsp.lf.dk/Publikationer/Kilder/lu_medd/2006/733.aspx.

  • Moustsen, V.A. and Poulsen, H.L., 2004a. ‘Pattegrises dimensioner’. (The dimensions of piglets). Notat 0432. Videncenter For Svineproduktion. Available at: http://vsp.lf.dk/Publikationer/Kilder/notater/2004/0432.aspx.

  • Moustsen, V.A., 2006. Skrå liggevægge til løsgående diegivende søer. (Sloping walls to loosed housed lactating sows). Meddelelse 755, Videncenter For Svineproduktion. Available at: http://vsp.lf.dk/Publikationer/Kilder/lu_medd/2006/755.aspx.

  • Moustsen, V.A., Poulsen, H.L. and Nielsen, M.B.F., 2004. ‘Krydsningssøers dimensioner’ (The dimensions of cross bred sows). Medd. 649. Videncenter For Svineproduktion. Available at: http://vsp.lf.dk/Publikationer/Kilder/lu_medd/2004/649.aspx.

  • O'Reilly, K.M., Harris, M.J., Mendl, M., Held, S., Moinard, C., Statham, P., Marchant-Forde, J. and Green, L.E., 2006. Factors associated with preweaning mortality on commercial pig farms in England and Wales. The Veterinary Record 159: 193-196.

  • Oliviero, C., Heinonen, M., Valros, A. and Peltoniemi, O., 2010. Environmental and sow-related factors affecting the duration of farrowing. Animal Reproduction Science 119: 85-91.

  • Oliviero, C., Heinonen, M., Valros, A., Hälli, O. and Peltoniemi, O.A.T., 2008. Effect of the environment on the physiology of the sow during late pregnancy, farrowing and early lactation. Animal Reproduction Science 105: 365-377.

  • Pajor, E.A., Kramer, D.L. and Fraser, D., 2000. Regulation of contact with offspring by domestic sows: Temporal patterns and individual variation. Ethology 106: 37-51.

  • Pedersen, L J., Damm, B.I., Marchant-Forde, J.N. and Jensen, K.H., 2003. Effects of feed-back from the nest on maternal responsiveness and postural changes in primiparous sows during the first 24 h after farrowing onset. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 83: 109-124.

  • Pedersen, L.J. and Jensen, T., 2008. Effects of late introduction of sows to two farrowing environments on the progress of farrowing and maternal behavior. Journal of Animal Science 86: 2730-2737.

  • Pedersen, L.J., Berg, P., Jørgensen, E., Bonde, M., Herskin, M.S., Knage-Rasmussen, K.M., Kongsted, A.G., Lauridsen, C., Oksbjerg, N., Poulsen, H.D., Sørensen, D., Su, G., Sorensen, M.T., Theil, P.K., Thodberg, K. and Jensen, K.H., 2010. Pattegrisedødelighed i DK: Muligheder for reduktion af pattegrisedødeligheden i Danmark. (Piglet mortality in Denmark: possibilities for reducing neonatal piglet mortality in Denmark). DJF Rapport - Husdyrbrug, vol. 86, Aarhus Universitet, Det JordbrugsvidenskabeligeFakultet, Denmark.

  • Pedersen, L.J., Berg, P., Jørgensen, G. and Andersen, I.L., 2011. Neonatal piglet traits of importance for survival in crates and indoor pens. Journal of Animal Science 89: 1207-1218.

  • Pedersen, L.J., Jorgensen, E., Heiskanen, T. and Damm, B.I., 2006. Early piglet mortality in loose-housed sows related to sow and piglet behaviour and to the progress of parturition. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 96: 215-232.

  • Pedersen, L.J., Malmkvist, J. and Jørgensen, E., 2007a. The use of a heated floor area by sows and piglets in farrowing pens. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 103: 1-11.

  • Pedersen, L.J., Malmkvist, J. and Jørgensen, E., 2007b. The use of a heated floor area by sows and piglets in farrowing pens. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 103: 1-11.

  • Pedersen, L.J., Malmkvist, J., Jensen, T., Jørgensen, E., 2013. Avoiding hypothermia in neonatal piglets: the effect of duration of floor heating at different room temperatures. Journal of Animal Science 91:425-432.

  • Pedersen, O.G. and Ingwersen, J., 1981. Afprøvning af 4 forskellige farestityper. (Field tests of four different farrowing pens). Dansk svineproduktion, Medd. Nr. 30. Available at: http://vsp.lf.dk/Publikationer/Kilder/lu_medd/medd/30.aspx.

  • Phillips, P.A., Fraser, D. and Pawluczuk, B., 2000. Floor temperature preference of sows at farrowing. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 67: 59-65.

  • Phillips, P.A., Fraser, D. and Thompson, B.K., 1991. Preference by sows for a partially enclosed farrowing crate. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 32: 35-43.

  • Prunier, A., De Braganga, M.M. and Le Dividich, J., 1997. Influence of high ambient temperature on performance of reproductive sows. Livestock Production Science 52: 123-133.

  • Quiniou, N. and Noblet, J., 1999. Influence of high ambient temperatures on performance of multiparous lactating sows. Journal of Animal Science 77: 2124-2134.

  • Roehe, R. and Kalm, E., 2000. Estimation of genetic and environmental risk factors associated with preweaning mortality in piglets using generalized linear mixed models. Animal Science 70: 227-240.

  • Sancha, S.E and Arey, D.S., 1995. Sows preference for roofed farrowing areas. Farm Building Progress 117: 36-39.

  • Schmid, H., 1992, Arttypische Strukturierung der Abferkelbucht. In: Aktuelle Arbeiten zur artgemässen Tierhaltung 1991, KTBL-Schrift 351. KTBL, Darmstadt, Germany, pp. 27-36.

  • Stolba, A. and Wood-Gush, D.G.M., 1984. The identification of behavioral key features and their incorporation into a housing design for pigs. Annales de Recherches Veterinaires 15: 287-298.

  • Stolba, A. and Wood-Gush, D.G.M., 1989. The behaviour of piglets in a semi-natural environment. Animal Production 48: 419-425.

  • Su, G., Lund, M.S. and Sorensen, D., 2007. Selection for litter size at day five to improve litter size at weaning and piglet survival rate. Journal of Animal Science 85: 1385-1392.

  • Taylor, L., Friend, T. and Smith, L.A., 1988. Effect of housing on in situ postures of gestating gilts. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 19: 265-272.

  • Thodberg, K., Jensen, K.H., Herskin, M.S. and Jorgensen, E., 1999. Influence of environmental stimuli on nest building and farrowing behaviour in domestic sows. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 63: 131-144.

  • Thodberg, K., Jørgensen, E., Olsson, A.C., Houbak, B. and Pedersen, L.J., 2008. The relationship between pre-pubertal inactivity and maternal ability in loose-housed sows. Proceedings of the 42nd International Congress of the ISAE, Dublin, Ireland, p. 79.

  • Troxler, J. and Weber, R., 1989, Die Anwendung ethologischer Erkenntnisse bei der Prüfung von Stalleinrichtungen für Schweine. In: Aktuelle Arbeiten zur artgemässen Tierhaltung 1988, KTBL-Schrift 336, KTBL, Darmstadt, Germany, pp. 142-149.

  • Tuchscherer, M., Puppe, B., Tuchscherer, A. and Tiemann, U., 2000. Early identification of neonates at risk: Traits of newborn piglets with respect to survival. Theriogenology 54: 371-388.

  • Weber, R. and Troxler, J., 1988, Die Bedeutung der Zeitdauer der Geburt in verschiedenen Abferkelbuchten zur Beurteilung auf Tiergerechtheit. In: Aktuelle Arbeiten zur artgemässen Tierhaltung 1987, KTBL-Schrift 323. KTBL, Darmstadt, Germany, pp. 172-184.

  • Weber, R., 1984, Entwicklung einer Abferkelbucht nach ethologischen und verfahrenstechnischen Gesichtspunkten. In: Aktuelle Arbeiten zur artgemässen Tierhaltung 1983, KTBL-Schrift 299. KTBL, Darmstadt, Germany, pp. 153-165.

  • Weber, R., Keil, N.M., Fehr, M. and Horat, R., 2007. Piglet mortality on farms using farrowing systems with or without crates. Animal Welfare 16: 277-279.

  • Wischner, D., Kemper, N and Krieter, J., 2009a. Nest-building behaviour in sows and consequences for pig husbandry. Livestock Science 124: 1-8.

  • Wischner, D., Kemper, N., Stamer, E., Hellbruegge, B., Presuhn, U. and Krieter, J., 2009b. Characterisation of sows’ postures and posture changes with regard to crushing piglets. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 119: 49-55.

  • Wülbers-Mindermann, M., Algers, B., Berg, C., Lundeheim, N. and Sigvardsson, J., 2002. Primiparous and multiparous maternal ability in sows in relation to indoor and outdoor farrowing systems. Livestock Production Science 73: 285-297.

  • Collapse
  • Expand

Livestock housing

Modern management to ensure optimal health and welfare of farm animals


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 188 188 16
PDF Views & Downloads 167 167 11