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Crate Free Pork

Apr 25, 2022 | News

What is a Farrowing Crate and are there alternatives?

An investigation into various birthing methods for pigs

A pig has quite a short breeding cycle. A sow is pregnant for approximately 112-115 days, (the gestation period), before it gives birth to a litter. Once the sow has given birth, (farrowed), the piglets are typically on milk for 21 days and then weaned from the sow. The sow is then rebred with the boar 3-7 days after the piglets have been weaned. This means that a sow can typically have 2.4-2.5 litters per year.

In conventional piggeries, the sows are bred with the boar in gestation crates and then they remain in these crates until they are moved into farrowing crates to give birth. The sows live in a cramped environment and are never let outdoors.

However, there has been increasing developments in a movement towards crate free farrowing. In California, USA, Prop 12 is making legislative changes to how pork is produced and preventing pork being sold that is farmed using crates. This has been met with great resistance from lobbyists that intend on preserving the status quo but there are other movements like this around the world gaining traction.

At Tinderbox Farm we have a very different approach. The sows live outdoors in a field while pregnant and are bred with the boar in an outdoor pen, with no crates. Tree branches are used to create sheltered areas for the sows to protect them from rain and wind. The field is fenced to prevent the sows from going missing and to control their grazing.

A week before the sow is scheduled to farrow, the sow is moved indoors into a large pen. The sow can walk around freely in this pen and there is nothing constraining the sow.

Once the sow has farrowed a litter, if there are sows with similar aged piglets, 2 sows and their piglets are moved into a larger pen. This gives the sows a more social environment and improves the welfare of the piglets as the mothering duties of the two litters are shared between the two sows. The piglets stay on milk for 28-42 days. This helps grow the piglets’ bones and builds their immune systems, for when they are weaned and moved outdoors.

The sows are moved into an outdoor isolation pen with other sows after weaning for a rest period and then moved to the outdoor breeding pen with the boar. Once re-mated with the boar the sows are sent out to the field and live there until a week before farrowing.

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