Science - December 15, 2011

Unconfined sows give birth better

The better a piglet's start in life of a piglet, the healthier it will be as it grows up.

At the request of a group of sow farmers, the experimental farm at the Sterksel pig innovation centre is testing new farrowing pen designs. The Pro Dromi farrowing pen differs from standard pens in eight ways. For example, piglets have more space to move about, giving the sows more chance to cool down. The study also looks into the difference between farrowing with freedom of movement and farrowing confined between railings.
An initial study, involving more than fifty sows, shows that sows which can move freely do not need to change their positions so often. As a result, no new-born piglets can be accidentally crushed to death during the birth. ‘Overlays' happen more often with confined sows which are more agitated. Furthermore, a sow which can move about freely has more nose contact with her piglets. ‘That is good for their relationship, and this in turn has a positive influence on the piglets as they grow up, as is the case with humans,' says Nicoline Soede of the Adaptation Physiology Group, who is involved in the project. It is hard to say whether the more comfortable farrowing pens are also economically viable. The chance to lead a healthier life is difficult to express in terms of money, says Soede.

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