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Higher preweaning mortality in free farrowing pens compared with farrowing crates in three commercial pig farms

  • J. Hales (a1), V. A. Moustsen (a2), M. B. F. Nielsen (a2) and C. F. Hansen (a1)


If loose-housed farrowing systems are to be an alternative to traditional farrowing crates, it is important that they can deliver the same production results as can be achieved in farrowing crates under commercial conditions. The aim of this study was to compare preweaning mortality in farrowing crates and free farrowing pens (FF-pens) within herds that had both systems. The study was conducted over 2 years in three commercial Danish herds that had FF-pens as well as traditional farrowing crates in their farrowing unit. Piglet mortality was analysed in two periods: before litter equalisation and after litter equalisation. Linear models were used to analyse effects of housing (crate or pen), herd (Herd A, B or C), parity (parities 1, 2, 3 to 4 or 5 to 8) as well as the effect of number of total born piglets on mortality before litter equalisation, and the effect of equalised litter size on piglet mortality after litter equalisation. All corresponding interactions were included in the models. Before litter equalisation piglet mortality was higher (P<0.001) in pens (13.7%) than in crates (11.8%). Similarly, piglet mortality after litter equalisation was higher in pens than in crates in all three herds, but the difference between pens and crates were dissimilar (P<0.05) in the different herds. In addition, piglet mortality, both before (P<0.001) and after litter equalisation (P<0.001), grew with increasing parity of the sows. Mortality before litter equalisation moreover increased with increasing number of total born piglets per litter (P<0.001), and mortality after equalisation increased when equalised litter size increased (P<0.001). No significant interactions were detected between housing and parity or housing and litter size for any of the analysed variables. In conclusion, there is knowledge how to design pens for free farrowing; but this study showed a higher preweaning mortality in the FF-pen. Nonetheless a noteworthy proportion of the sows in the FF-pens delivered results comparable to those farrowing in crates. This indicates that FF-pens are not yet a robust type of housing for farrowing sows.


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