Farrowing pens provide care for the sow before and after farrowing (giving birth) by allowing her to receive individual care, water and feed. The farrowing pen also protects piglets after farrowing as it reduces the risk of the sow from squashing her piglets. Piglets need higher temperatures than sows so pens have a separate heated area called a creep for piglets to keep warm.
The main purpose of the farrowing (birthing) pen is to protect the piglets from being smothered, squashed, or trampled by the sow. Adult sows are very big animals (200-300kgs), many, many times larger than newborn piglets (around 1.5kg). They tend to flop down suddenly and little piglets may not get out of the way in time.
The sow's area is designed with side railings so that the sow has to lie down slowly, but comfortably. They also mean that the little piglets can move under the side railings away from the sow. This keeps them safe from being crushed. To the side of most farrowing pens is a specially heated area designed for the piglets called the 'creep' area. They gravitate there quite naturally. The sow, who needs a much cooler environment, doesn’t need to “suffer” the higher temperatures that the piglets require.
The temperature in the farrowing room is normally kept at around 20°C. The piglets’ need it to be a lot warmer at around 30°C. A heat pad and/or heat lamps keep their creep area at this warmer temperature.
The stockperson caring for the sow and her piglets can easily keep it clean and hygenic, and provide care and medical attention without upsetting the sow or distressing the piglets.
To see farrowing pens watch the videos here:
Indoor farrowing (birthing)
Because sows need to be on their own at farrowing they are moved into a farrowing pen five days before they give birth to allow them to acclimatise and be on their own. They stay there for about 4 weeks after farrowing, to feed and care for the piglets, until the piglets are weaned.
In late 2011, Waratah Farms installed 30 new freedom farrowing (birthing) pens. These pens are manufactured by Vissing Agro in Denmark. The freedom system allows the sow and piglets to have more space, providing them with a more comfortable environment. Sow behaviour in the freedom system is less restricted, and sows can move around freely.
In 2012, research began at Waratah involving Massey University. The aim of this research is to investigate the welfare, productivity and behaviour of sows and piglets in the new freedom system; and compare this to sows in existing farrowing pens on the same farm. This is a world-leading study involving over 300 sows and their litters in the first year. An important aspect of this study is that two different farrowing (birthing) systems are in use on the same farm. As opposed to comparing two farms that use different systems, the project at Waratah allows a more accurate comparison; given that labour input, stock management, genotype, gestation housing and feeding are the same across both farrowing systems. Follow this link to a video that shows the new Combi-flex freedom farrowing system in use at Waratah Farms.
This trial is supported by NZPork and the Ministry for Primary Industries – Sustainable Farming Fund.
In New Zealand all indoor farmers use a farrowing (birthing) pen, as it gives piglets the best chance for survival, and allows the sow her own feed rather than competing with other pigs.
Outdoor farmers use a farrowing hut. This individual hut allows the sow to be on her own while farrowing. The hut is designed to minimise overlaying and straw is provided for piglet warmth.
To see outdoor farrowing watch the video here: