What makes a good free farrowing sow?


AWF Research Fund



Research Period


Area of study

Breeding for Better Welfare


Investigator(s): Emma Baxter

There are animal welfare concerns about the continued use of close confinement maternity systems for expectant and lactating sows. Allowing greater behavioural and physical freedom for the sow raises concerns about increased piglet mortality risk from overlying. Higher welfare maternity systems exist but uptake needs optimisation of pens, people and pigs. This latter aspect will involve breeding for improved maternal behaviours such as carefulness around lying, as well as physical traits related to being ‘fit to farrow’, such as leg conformation ensuring supported posture changes as well as nimbleness to respond to piglet distress calls.

The project will fund a Masters by Research to analyse existing data to identify traits of sows best suited to farrow (give birth) in high welfare maternity systems. This fits the ‘breeding for welfare’ scope within BVA’s policy position and will support efforts to address one of the most persistent welfare concerns for pigs – namely the use of close confinement maternity systems (farrowing crates).


Watch Emma Baxter's presentation at the 2023 Discussion Forum