Sow welfare in farrowing systems

EM Baxter*, Inger Lise Andersen, Sandra A. Edwards

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Most sows worldwide farrow while restrained in a farrowing crate. This poses a welfare dilemma. The restriction of sow movement interferes with the performance of species-specific behaviours such as nest-building, orientation, exploration, and communication with the piglets and leads to increased physiological stress. However, allowing the sow more freedom to perform motivated behaviours often results in increased crushing of piglets and hence a piglet welfare problem. Research efforts have led to successful development of loose farrowing systems delivering high performance and high welfare. Key to success is allowing species-typical behaviours that contribute to biological fitness, which encompasses important performance parameters such as number of offspring produced, offspring viability, and maternal rearing ability. Performance and welfare can improve by optimising system design (e.g. housing), human inputs (e.g. management), and animal inputs (e.g. genetic selection strategies). Continuing genetic selection pressure for sow leanness and prolificacy has, however, significant impacts on their welfare. A more balanced equation, where the cost of maternal investment is balanced against the increase in the number of piglets born and weaned, is needed as a basis for breeding programs.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Pig Welfare, Second Edition
EditorsIrene Camerlink, Emma Baxter
PublisherWoodhead Publishing
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)9780323856768
ISBN (Print)9780323915731
Publication statusFirst published - 6 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Free farrowing
  • Temporary crating
  • Genetic selection
  • Management
  • Maternal behaviour
  • Piglet survival
  • Prolificacy
  • Free-farrowing


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