Five tips to work best with free farrowing

Solveig Kongsrud is a senior advisor in Norsvin and has 30 years of experience with advice to Norwegian pig farmers. She is also part of the Topigs Norsvin Global Nutrition Services team, which provides feed and management support to clients worldwide.

Free farrowing is the future of modern pig production, and in Norway crating of sows during farrowing has been prohibited since 2000.

During the last two decades Norwegian pig farmers has seen an increase in litter size, a decrease in pre-weaning mortality, heavier piglets at weaning, and improved sow health. The reasons for these results are, besides genetic improvement, a variety of factors and management practices.

Solveig’s tips to work best with free farrowing:

  1. Pen size and design.
    Pen size and design is crucial – minimum 2.4 m x 3.2 m, with protection rails on walls and no farrowing crate. Limited space allowance is the number one reason for crushing of piglets, because it inhibits the sow’s possibility to perform good maternal behaviour.
  2. Creep area and temperature.
    Creep area and room temperature must be optimized. The optimal thermal temperature for the sow is around 16 degrees, while the piglets need around 25-30 degrees. The pen should have a separate heated creep area to encourage the piglets to stay in their safe and comfortable space when not suckling. The creep area should have an integrated and adjustable barrier plate and be placed by the aisle to optimize the handling of piglets.
  3. Socialize animals.
    Socialize gilts and sows. Sows that are used to positive human handling are calmer during farrowing and will allow you to handle their piglets. Pigs are easy to socialize and a few minutes of positive human-animal interactions a day from a young age is enough.
  4. Nest building.
    Nest building is a fundamental behavior for sows and giving them access to rooting materials 24h before farrowing will make them calmer, decrease farrowing duration, decrease number of stillborn piglets, and initiate milk production.
  5. Dietary fibre and free water access.
    Feed with fibre (i.e., sugar beet pulp) supplies the sow with energy during parturition, decrease the risk of constipation, decrease farrowing duration, and is positive for the quantity and quality of colostrum and milk. High quality water should always be freely available, and drinkers should give minimum 4 l/min.

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