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Costs and benefits of higher welfare farrowing

Higher welfare freedom-style farrowing pens with temporary crating work well and actually improve performance in many cases, says Tim Miller, environment specialist for ARM Buildings.

But converting to such systems comes at enormous expense. “This can amount to £6,000 per sow place and could cost the industry as a whole over £200 million,” he told the Pigs Tomorrow conference in Leicestershire. The government needs to be aware of this when voting in new legislation, which is likely to be aligned with that in Europe. “It’s a question of when, not if,” he warned.

As farmers try to ‘future-proof their units, hundreds of such pens have already been installed on British farms and Tim Miller has been involved in many of these.

“Keeping the sows confined for the first three or four days definitely saves piglets’ lives and many farmers have reported lower mortality, better weaning weights and fitter, more mobile sows,” he said. “One farm achieved a remarkable 6-8 percent mortality from 14.7 piglets born alive,” he reported. “Stock people like the system as it is safe and easy to manage.”

Government legislators should not underestimate the difficulties, though. The extra costs incurred are due mainly to the additional 45-50 per cent of space needed.  When converting existing houses fewer sows can be accommodated, so new buildings may be required even if herds are not expanded.

“Most farmers I deal with are in favour of the higher-welfare pens, but there should be proper recognition of the eye-watering costs,” said Tim.