The farrowing crate
British farmers boast that they no longer use the metal-barred sow stalls, where pregnant sows spent their lives in almost total immobility, often chained to the floor. They were forced to make a change because of pressure from animal protection organisations and the general public. In fact, many farmers were against the banning of sow stalls.
The European Commission’s Scientific Veterinary Committee did not agree. It condemned sow stalls in a 1997 report because of the serious health and welfare problems (42). The report concluded that sows in stalls have weaker bones and muscles, heart problems and more urinary tract infections.
Sow stalls were phased out and became illegal in Britain during 1999. Across Europe however, they were banned only from 2013, with the exception of four weeks post ‘service’. They were banned in New Zealand in 2015 (43) and in Australia by 2017 (44).
Unfortunately, the farrowing crate, which is a close cousin of the sow stall, continues to be commonly used on British pig farms. FAWC have reported that 60 per cent of the 350,000 or more sows who are currently kept indoors in the UK are subject to close confinement (8, 16). In fact, the majority of indoor sows are maintained in farrowing crates, many with partly or fully slatted flooring for manure management as slurry.
The farrowing crate is a small metal crate in which sows are imprisoned for five weeks at a time. She is moved to the crate a week before she is due to give birth (farrow) until her piglets are taken from her. The metal frame of the crate is just a few more centimetres than the sow’s body and, as a result, it severely restricts her movement. Some current farrowing systems do not permit any full turning around, some systems may restrict turning for a period and then are opened to allow full turning within a day or so of farrowing, and some systems allow unrestricted turning at all times (16). The crates prevent sows from nest-building, which is an important behavioural trait of pigs.
This sow, filmed at a farm in 2015 by Viva! will remain in this crate for five weeks before she is transferred to a pen where, within five days, she will be impregnated again © Viva!