Over the years, we’ve gone back and forth about the best ways to ensure that both our pigs and pigs remain healthy, comfortable, and most importantly, alive during the farrowing process.
Although they do not do this on purpose, it is very common that furrows roll over their piglets during or shortly after sow.
In fact, in one year, we lost a total of 7 piglets to an overweight sow who had difficulty moving away and, as a result, kept rolling over on our piglets as they adjusted themselves.
Because the sow is much larger than their piglet – a distant sow can weigh several hundred pounds while its piglet often weighs only a few – this is very common.
We have lost dozens of pigs over the years to this unfortunate tragedy. However, this is not uncommon, and it is the reason why the distant box was invented.
What are farrowing crates? Farrowing crates are a controversial method for pregnant sows.
They are designed to ensure the safety of both the mother and the pig, but many people feel that they go against the natural behavior of pigs.
If you’re trying to decide whether farrowing crates are ethical, unfortunately, you won’t find a clear answer to this question.
It’s a heated debate—and it’s not always black and white.
Here’s what you need to know.
- 1 What is a farrowing crate?
- 2 What is the purpose of a farrowing crate?
- 3 Are Faroeing Crates Cruel?
- 4 alternatives to a farrowing crate
- 5 Should you be using farrowing crates?
What is a farrowing crate?
Farrowing crates are sometimes referred to as gestation crates or sow stalls but they are not technically the same.
While the gestation crate is only to be used during that period – the gesture – the farrowing crate is to be used only before, during, and immediately after the piglet is born.
Gestation crates are often used to increase production and ensure that the nutritional needs of the sow are met during pregnancy. When they are kept in crowded conditions, the pregnant cow either eats too much or too little. Aggression can also be an issue.
Because of this, pregnancy boxes serve to keep animals isolated so they can be safe, well fed, and vaccines and other medications can be administered as needed.
Most farms do not use gestation crates (except for large commercial operations). Some, however, rely on the farrowing crate. These are designed to provide her with a place to give birth and to provide for her nursing young.
Farrowing crates can reduce piglet mortality from 30% to 6% in open farrowing areas.
The design is simple.
Most farrowing crates are about 7-feet long and have butt bars on the back and anti-lat bars around the rest of the crate. These prevent a sow from latching onto her piglet while they are being born as well as while she is lactating.
If you are considering using a farrowing crate on your farm, it is important to understand the difference between a gesture crate and a farrowing crate.
Farrowing crates provide plenty of room for sows. They are used only during and immediately after farrowing, not for the entire pregnancy.
What is the purpose of a farrowing crate?
Most farrowing crates are used about 5 days before sowing, as long as the pigs are weaned.
This usually happens when they are about 28 days old. When all is said and done, a sow is placed in a distant crate for about a month.
Some growers rely on farrowing crates to more easily monitor the health of sows, administer medications, and help them perform other tasks.
However, the primary purpose of a farrowing crate is to prevent the possibility of sows crushing their piglets.
Fully grown sows are very heavy – newborn piglets are not. If a sow accidentally gets on a pig or rolls on it, it can injure or kill it immediately.
Farrowing reduces the risk of crate piglets being injured or killed.
Even if you are not running a large commercial hog farm, you may want to consider using take away boxes to deal with the frustrating reality of dead pigs.
Are Faroeing Crates Cruel?
Farrowing crates are a hotly contested item in most animal welfare circles.
This is because they are so small. They prevent the sows from turning and only allow them to move back and forth a bit.
Not only that, it only provides a crawling area for the pigs. Although they can reach her nipples, the sow cannot clean or otherwise interact with her piglets. This can affect the bonding process and lead to other health problems as well.
They can also interfere with the farrowing process before it begins.
You probably already know that one of the main things to sow and gilt before farrowing is building a nest.
This is normal behavior that cannot be done with a distant crate – even if nesting material is provided, there is often not enough room.
This can create unnecessary stress for him as well as confusion in the distant animal that could have been avoided otherwise. A sow that is limited to feeding its pigs can become more aggressive, frustrated, and stressed. Once the sow has left the distant crate, it is common for it to attack its piggy bank as well.
Because of this, farrowing crates are illegal in many parts of the world. Countries like Norway, Switzerland and Sweden have banned their use.
alternatives to a farrowing crate
Although there are a lot of disadvantages to using a farrowing crate, the fact remains that something needs to be done to save a piglet’s life. On my farm, we were always very far-fetched crates. That is, until we lose 7 piglets overnight at once.
Luckily, we’ve found that there are a few other things you can do to help protect your pigs and ensure that your sow is healthy and well cared for.
1. Know the Timeline
One is to make sure you are well versed of the far-reaching timeline.
Pigs are quite precise in their gestures. The gestation period is 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days, and they usually hold onto that timeline very tightly.
It is essential to know when your sow is due away as this will ensure that you can be there to monitor the situation.
You’ll know if your sow is having difficulty weaning away and whether you need to intervene to save a life.
2. Give Them Space
Providing more space for the pigs can also be helpful.
Give them lots of fresh, clean nesting material and a dry area in which to stay away. This will ensure that they are comfortable.
This can reduce the excessive tossing and turning that can occur during farrowing – and can cause the newborn piglet to gnaw.
3. Keeping the Piglets Warm and Dry
We have come up with a simple solution to make “bumpers” around the remote area on our farm. We have farrow sows with plenty of space but the bumpers are set low to the ground. While pigs can run under bumpers, a sow cannot fit any part of its body under them. This gives the pigs a place to escape when a sow starts and turns.
This has significantly reduced our piglet mortality, as has another intervention. We prefer to dry the pigs immediately after birth.
We noticed that our pigs wanted to crawl under their mothers after they were born. They were shivering and apparently cold, running under Mama for extra warmth.
However, as you can imagine, this increased their chances of being crushed.
To combat this, we now dry each piglet after they are born with a towel. Then, we immediately put it on a black stall mat under a heat lamp. It is in a creeping area the sow cannot reach.
Piglets may run in and out to warm up (and later in their lives, to get water and forage to crawl into). However, they don’t have to worry about rolling on.
It is important to introduce piglets to this warm, dry area as soon as they are born. It helps to inculcate it in their memory that they have a choice to let go.
Many of them like to sleep here because it is very hot. That way, there are fewer piggy banks to worry about Mama stepping on or rolling over.
If you’re not comfortable using a heat lamp in your barn, you don’t need to. You can also use something like a heat plate or heating pad.
4. Loose Housing
“Loose housing” systems are currently being developed and tested around the world.
These are simple, easy to manage and ideal for animal welfare. However, since they are new, they are difficult and expensive to find.
Should you be using farrowing crates?
If you are trying to decide whether or not to use a farrowing crate with your sow, hopefully this information has been helpful.
This is not a decision I can make for you, nor is it easy.
In the end, you need to weigh the pros and cons of such a system before diving in.
While they are controversial, farrowing crates have their place in some settings. Consider these tips as you try to decide on your farm!
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