Review on alternatives to stalls for sows after weaning and in early pregnancy
In 2021, the EU Commission announced it intends to phase out stalls for sows after weaning and in early pregnancy by 2027. The announcement was part of the Commission’s response to the European Citizens’ Initiative “End the Cage Age” launched in 2018, which joined over 170 organizations and gained over 1.6. million signatures calling for a ban on crating farmed animals in the EU (www.endthecageage.eu). At the present time, EU regulations still allow sow stalls from weaning until four weeks after service (see Council Directive 2008/120/EC, Article 3, Point 4.). A change of existing EU animal welfare legislation will most likely further reduce the possibility for farmers to use sow stalls, thus relying more on alternatives to sow stalls, also during early pregnancy. However, group-housing at this reproductive stage harbours risk, such as injuries or reproductive failure due to agonistic and oestrus behaviours (e.g. mounting).
This review addresses important events from weaning, oestrus and implantation in the sow’s reproductive cycle and provides measures to reduce the risks associated with group-housing. The review ends with a compilation of examples of group-housing systems for sows after weaning and in early pregnancy.