27 Apr 2017, 09:45 AM
AHDB Pork Blog
Sweden: the land of fresh air, endless forests and IKEA. More importantly, also the land where free farrowing rules and pigs are reared with long tails. Which is why it made it onto the study tour shortlist and why thirteen pig enthusiasts went to find out some of the trade secrets.
Despite the snow (which in the UK would have gridlocked everything!) we were warmly welcomed by our hosts from the university and local farms, who between them had an impressive amount of knowledge which came in handy to answer all our questions.
Welfare standards in Sweden are driven by the government, with free farrowing required by law since 1994 and tail docking not permitted for as long as two generations (!) can remember. So how do they make it work?
The sows were noticeably calm, despite a large group of people milling about. Given that free farrowing has been around for so long, genetics surely play a part in selecting such calm mothers. In addition, sows receive a generous helping of nesting material (almost exclusively straw) and I liked that a painkiller was widely used throughout the farm, as necessary. But despite all the experience, pre-weaning mortality is still generally higher than in crates, with high performers seeing pre-weaning mortality rates of 12%; however, they still weaned an impressive 29 pigs per sow per year.
As for long tails, it was interesting that tail docking was simply not seen as an option. Tail biting does still occur on Swedish farms though and farmers know that. Daily straw rations (50g/pig/day) are given as a rule and if needed, additional enrichment (peat, beans, sweetcorn or extra straw) is provided. However, we all know that straw isn’t the panacea and compared to the deep straw systems seen in the UK, the Swedish stalls had no more than a light ‘dusting’ of straw. So really, that can’t just be it.
But the combination of slightly more generous space allowances, keeping litters together as much as possible throughout their lives, underfloor heating in many places and castrated males, probably all play a part when combined and at least one of these is unachievable in the UK. But much of it, I’m sure, also depends on attitude and there is simply no other legal option. Swedish farmers now don’t want to go back to farrowing crates (I asked), although temporary crating was tempting for some.
The verdict? Although we have seen and learnt a lot from our Swedish colleagues, there is, sadly, no holy grail for us British producers.
By AHDB Pork at 27 Apr 2017, 09:45 AM