piglets feeding
14 December 2020

Care4Pigs: Further Advancing the Positive Impact of Free Farrowing


Posted by Janice Chow

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There are various swine production systems in practice across the world, each adapted to varying environments and associated with different advantages. One system that is often discussed in relation to higher animal welfare, is free farrowing.

In Switzerland and Scandinavia free farrowing is obligatory. The system allows both sow and piglets to perform more appropriate behaviour, such as nesting before farrowing, freedom of movement and closer interaction between mother and litter. But one of the concerns linked with free farrowing is that there could be a higher risk of piglet mortality.

Many European countries are looking to introduce the free farrowing system to further swine wellbeing. To support this trend, Care4Pigs grant recipient Dr Thomas Heinrich Echtermann from Vetsuisse Faculty of the University of Zurich in Switzerland, aims to use the funding to further his research on the effect of free farrowing on the wellbeing of pigs:

“As a society we are responsible for how we treat the animals in our care, and it is important to understand that welfare is a process of constant adaptation and improvement. The study aims to show that, with suitable management, free farrowing is possible without higher piglet losses and that the welfare of both piglet and sow can be increased.”

Dr Echtermann’s research aims to address key concerns by studying the behaviour of piglets in a free-farrowing system, and by creating an appropriate pen design which allows for short-term separation from the sow. The outcomes of the research will then be shared globally, with the aim of highlighting the benefits of free farrowing, along with best practice recommendations:

“With the Care4Pigs grant we can ensure round-the-clock birth monitoring on farm and measure piglet behaviour by camera. We believe that free farrowing is key to the future of pig wellbeing and we will continue to research in this area and share experiences from Switzerland, where the system is well established, with other countries.”

We invite you to read impressions from the Care4Pigs jury, and learn about two more winning projects: O’porctunité - Web and mobile app for pig welfare from France and Online training tool for proper identification of pigs in need of care and treatment from Brazil.

The Care4Pigs global grant initiative is in line with Elanco’s strong commitment to advancing the health and wellbeing of animals and contributes toward Elanco Healthy Purpose™, the company’s approach to sustainability, as well as environmental, social and governance commitments. 


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