What is a farrowing crate?
A farrowing crate is a metal-barred pen that is similar in size to a sow stall but slightly narrower. Farrowing crates are used in pig farming systems to protect piglets and maximise their survival by preventing them from unintentionally being overlain (crushed) by their mother.
The sow is moved into the farrowing crate a few days to a week before giving birth and is kept there until the piglets are weaned at 3–4 weeks of age. The crate has an area around it that the piglets can move into to avoid being crushed by the sow.
What are the welfare concerns associated with farrowing crates?
Welfare issues associated with the use of farrowing crates arise from the fact that pigs are intelligent, social animals, with a complex range of behaviours and needs. Pregnant sows are highly motivated to engage in nesting behaviours (nest seeking and nest building) prior to farrowing, but they are frustrated from carrying out this behaviour in farrowing crates, which do not provide bedding or nesting material or room to move freely.
The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards do not permit the use of farrowing crates, but instead support the use of farrowing systems (e.g. farrowing pens) that provide freedom of movement and meet the sows’ and piglets’ behavioural and physiological needs; this includes the provision of a suitable enclosure with materials and space to allow nesting behaviour in the sow, and warmth and protection from crushing for the piglets. You can read more about the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme at rspcaapproved.org.au.