Dr Greg Cronin

Greg Cronin is a senior lecturer in animal behaviour and welfare science in the Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, based in Camden. Greg’s research interests include investigation of the interaction between the animal’s environment and its behaviour, welfare and productivity. His current research interests include evaluation of lower confinement housing systems for farrowing and lactating sows, welfare issues of free range laying hens, and the application of remote monitoring technology to improve the management and welfare of extensively managed cattle and sheep.

Topic: Can low-confinement housing for the farrowing sow and her litter be successfully achieved in intensive pig production in Australia?

The farrowing crate is an established component of successful husbandry practice in the pig industry world-wide, in an era when the majority of pigs are intensively housed. Farrowing crates successfully improve piglet survival rates in three main ways: First, the structural design of the crate restricts sow movement with the aim of reducing piglet mortality due to accidental crushing by the sow during posture changing or rolling over. Secondly, a more appropriate thermal environment can be provided during the neonatal period to reduce piglet mortality caused by chilling and related starvation. Thirdly, improved hygiene is possible through the use of perforated floors and better construction materials, helping to reduce piglet morbidity and mortality due to disease. While farrowing crates have been credited with halving piglet mortality over the past 50 years, another important issue which is often overlooked is that farrowing crates improve farm-worker safety. The crate structure restrains farrowed sows and stops them from attacking the stockperson (in defence of their litter). Despite these benefits to piglet welfare and human work place health and safety, farrowing crates are criticised for preventing pre-partum sows from performing species-specific nesting behaviour, with likely negative effects on sow welfare. This has prompted research aimed at developing lower-confinement pen systems for farrowing indoors. However, a persistent problem with farrowing pens has been that piglet mortality is higher than in crates. Understandably, pig producers will be reluctant to install farrowing pens for economic reasons. Higher piglet losses lead to fewer piglets weaned, which does not offset the higher capital investment cost of the extra floor space required compared to crates. Nevertheless, public interest in industry achieving low-confinement of pigs during all stages of production including farrowing and lactation, is a persistent driver for change. This presentation will review the history of farrowing crates, and the research on sow and piglet behaviour and the development on low confinement housing systems for the farrowing / lactating sow. Finally, the presentation will provide an insight on what still needs to be done and what the future farrowing accommodation might look like.