The welfare of all farm animals is protected by the Animal Welfare Act2006 which contains a duty of care to animals. This means that anyone who isresponsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to ensure that all welfareneeds are met. The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulation 2007 alsoincludes the standards set for all farm animals, as implemented by EuropeanUnion Directives 98/58/EC and 2008/120/EC. One of the two systemsfor housing pigs is the farrowing crate.
A sow will be moved into a farrowingcrate a week before she gives birth, and will then go on to spend the next fourweeks there feeding her piglets. The crate is designed to prevent the sow fromturning over and crushing her new born piglets, and when the piglets are notsuckling there is a heating area provided to attract them away from the sow.There is much controversy over the welfare of sows in farrowing crates, as themetal crate is only a few centimetres’ larger than the sow’s body, whichseverely restricts the movement. In some systems they do not allow the sow toturn over at all, or restrict turning for a period of time. The crates preventsows from nest building before giving birth, which is a natural and importantbehavioural trait for pigs. It can be argued that this is therefore violatingone of the five freedoms, the freedom to express normal behaviour.
It has alsobeen speculated by animal welfare experts that this system is also threateningtwo other freedoms, freedom from discomfort and freedom from fear and distress,(CABI2010). The alternative system used is outdoor reared, in which the sows areprovided with ‘arcs’ (individual shelters) and straw which allows them to builda nest prior to giving birth. There is a barrier restricting the movement ofthe piglets for the first week or two to ensure that they remain warm in thearc, and the piglets will then be weaned at around 28 days of age when theywill be moved away from the sow.
Approximately forty percent of sows in theUnited Kingdom give birth in outdoor reared systems. The term ‘outdoor reared’ means that the pigswill be reared outside for around half of their life, yet they will notnecessarily have access to pasture during this time. This system does prove tobe less intensive than the farrowing crate, as Edwards (2005) states “Outdoorpig production offers animals increased environmental diversity and behaviouralfreedom.” Yet there is a risk of exposure from parasites, and contact withwildlife, which could increase the chances of the pigs contracting an infectionor a disease.
Overall, the outdoor reared system is far more applicable thanthe farrowing system, which lacks in the aspects of animal health, welfare andhygiene.