The construction of a suitable farrowing environment is a continuing dilemma: the piglet’s needs must be matched with those of the sow and the farmer during the main phases that constitute farrowing: nest building, parturition and lactation. Difficulties exist in resolving the various conflicts of interest between and within these three parties (e.g. sow v . farmer: space needed for nest building v . space needed to maximise the amount of farrowing accommodation, or sow v . sow: ensuring the survival of the current litter v . maintaining condition for future litters). Thus, the challenge is to resolve these conflicts and design a system that maximises sow and piglet welfare while maintaining an economically efficient and sustainable enterprise. In order to successfully design a farrowing and lactation environment, it is necessary to consider the biological needs of both the sow and her litter. The natural behaviour of the sow has been well documented and very little variation exists between reports of peri-parturient behaviour observed in extensively kept domestic sows and their wild counterparts. The failure for domestication to significantly alter these behavioural patterns provides evidence that they are biologically significant and that the commercial farrowing environment should attempt to accommodate this behavioural repertoire. In addition, the behavioural needs of the piglets, as well as the physiological needs of both sows and their offspring should be considered. This article aims to review the considerable body of literature detailing the behavioural repertoire of sows and their offspring during the different phases of farrowing, and the accompanying physiological processes. The focus is on identifying biological needs of the animals involved in order to synthesise the appropriate design criteria for farrowing and lactation systems, which should optimise both welfare and animal production.
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