Crop and Pasture Science Crop and Pasture Science Society
Plant sciences, sustainable farming systems and food quality

A review of the welfare issues for sows and piglets in relation to housing

J. L. Barnett, P. H. Hemsworth, G. M. Cronin, E. C. Jongman and G. D. Hutson

Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 52(1) 1 - 28
Published: 2001


This review of sow welfare addresses all aspects of housing for adult female pigs, including the issue of piglet welfare during lactation. It puts the issue of sow welfare in perspective by briefly outlining different approaches to the scientific assessment of welfare, the ‘feelings, preference, nature, and the functional or homeostasis’ approaches. We believe the last approach currently offers science the best assessment of welfare and is the approach that is utilised in this review. It involves comparing housing or husbandry systems and risks to welfare on the basis of relative changes in biological (behavioural and physiological) responses and corresponding decreases in fitness (growth rate, reproductive performance, or health/injury/immunology).

The review discusses the following areas: (i) housing of individually housed pregnant pigs, with subsections on tethers, stalls, reproductive performance, exercise, and new stall designs; conventional, alternative, and outdoor group housing with subsections on aggression, electronic feeding stations, ecoshelters, and other alternative group housing designs; and other issues, such as lameness, culling, straw and other substrates, diet and hunger, quality of stockpeople, and housing around mating including oestrus detection and mating; and (ii) farrowing and lactating pigs with subsections on farrowing crates and alternative farrowing systems, stress around farrowing and during lactation, maternal behaviour and piglet survival, and sow and piglet injury and lameness.

Conclusions and recommendations arising from the review include the need for public education to provide an informed consumer base that will result in some consensus on welfare issues among diverse interest groups and the need for industry education that results in better animal welfare and a sustainable industry. Some specific research recommendations include space allowance and the duration of housing for individually housed pigs, welfare issues of breeding sows in ecoshelters, piglet mortality in alternative systems, aggression in conventional and large groups, bedding, and hunger.

Keywords: pig, piglet, sow, farrowing, fitness, welfare assessment.

© CSIRO 2001

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