Schedule 8 of The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 (as amended) (and similar legislation in Scotland and Wales) requires that accommodation must allow pigs to turn around without difficulty at all times; that the dimensions of any accommodation used for holding individual pigs must be such that the internal area is no less than the square of the length of the pig; and no internal side is less that 75 per cent of the length of the pig (62). However, this does not apply to a female pig for the period beginning seven days before the predicted day of farrowing and ending when the weaning of her piglets is complete, or if the pig can enter or leave a crate or pen at will.
Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have banned farrowing crates (16). Free farrowing systems are also being developed and marketed in other European countries, particularly Denmark and the Netherlands. There is interest in Australia and discussions on this issue in the United States (16). Instead of crates, ‘loose farrowing’ is used in some countries, where sows are housed in pens, as opposed to crates. Deep straw housing is also used.
Loose farrowing is a recent development in UK pig farming systems and these systems are just reaching the market or are involved in commercial trials (16). However, the British pig industry has relied on close confinement of sows during the farrowing and suckling period for over 50 years, and continues to do so.
There is hope. The government’s own farm animal welfare advisers, FAWC, have urged the pig industry to ‘push on’ with efforts to replace traditional farrowing crates with free-farrowing systems (16, 46). The FAWC states that the ‘universal use of such systems should be the aim’ and ‘adoption of free-farrowing systems should be reviewed in five years, and compared to that in other countries. If judged necessary for full adoption, the possibility of legislation to phase out farrowing crates should then be considered. For commercial reasons this may require action at EU level’ (16). In 2011, the 20:20 Pig Health and Welfare Strategy published by the British Pig Executive (BPEX - now AHDB Pork) committed the industry to focus on ‘finding solutions to … freedom around farrowing’ (47).
The banning of farrowing crates in some countries has been contentious, with pig industry proponents claiming that piglet loss is higher in loose housing (the majority of piglet mortality occurs during the first 72 hours after birth) though statistical investigations in Switzerland show no significant difference in the overall loss of piglets kept in pens with or without farrowing crates.