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Sow Stalls & Farrowing Crates

Sow Stall Free (Coles)

Sow Stalls or Crates are used to confine individual sows in intensive pig production. These stalls are very restrictive and do not allow free and natural movement by the sow.  All she can do is stand up or lie down.  She cannot turn around.  Sow Stall Free means that sows will not be kept in these stalls, instead the animals will be group housed in sheds.  Sow Stall Free only applies to the Coles brand of pork.

Unfortunately it is not the sow that becomes pork, it is her offspring.  Porker pigs have never been housed in sow stalls, they are instead housed in sheds.  This is a grey area for many consumers because pork industry terminology is not understood.  Ending the use of sow stalls is a great initiative but it must be understood that sow stall free does not mean free range.

Coles has not banned the use of Farrowing Crates which are a different form of sow stall. Read more on our pig welfare page

Does Sow Stall Free actually mean that no Sow Stalls can be used?

No it doesn't. 

The Pork Industry body standard, APIQ Gestation Stall Free, states:

The Australian Pork Limited (APL) “Gestation Stall Free” (GSF) definition as voted by APL Delegates in November 2010, is:

“Sows and gilts are kept in loose housing from at least five days after service until one (1) week before farrowing, where service refers to the last mating.

How the sows are housed from weaning to last mating (which could be several weeks) is unclear but there is no wording to suggest that sow stalls cannot be used during this time.

Are  Sow Stalls Banned?

No, Sow Stalls are not banned.

Recent media coverage of the industry decision to phase out sow stalls and the Coles decision not to buy pork from producers that use sow stalls from 2013, has given people hope that life will change for the thousands of sows farmed intensively in Australia.

But how sincere are the promises?  The Australian Pork industry has promised to 'pursue the voluntary phasing out of sow stalls by 2017'.

Unlike New Zealand where the government has legislated the banning of sow stalls from 2015, in most states of Australia we have new legislation that allows the continued use of sow stalls indefinitely.

So there is no such thing as banning of sow stalls in Australia, just a promise from industry from those that see the benefit of ending the practice of keeping sows in stalls.  As for the rest?  They will probably just trade on the ignorance of consumers that will just assume all is well in the Australian Pork industry now. 

As long as we have laws permitting the use of sow stalls their use will never be 'phased out'.  Its all a matter of smoke and mirrors to build confidence in Australian pork.  The Code of Practice is due to be revised in 2014.  Lets see how serious the industry is about phasing out sow stalls then. Lets hope they will back up their promise by have it included in the Code review.

Farrowing Crates are different to Sow Stalls and they have not been brought into the debate as yet.

Sow Stalls

Sow stalls have become a very contentious issue.  Consumers are becoming more educated about the source of their food and animal welfare is high on the agenda.  Many perceive sow stalls as cruel and unnecessary.

Changes are being made to the size of new sow stalls, requirements for existing installations and the maximum time that a sow can be kept in such stalls.  These requirements are spelt out in the Standards within the Model Code of Practice which are soon to become law.

Given the changes that need to happen, the expense of such modifications and the huge potential for future backlash from consumers in regard to sow stalls, it will pay to look at sow stall and farrowing crate free alternatives to secure long term benefits for any piggery business.


Problems with stalls

  • Physical disorders such as joint damage, leg weakness and urinary tract infections due to lack of exercise and confinement on hard floors.
  • Chronic stress, aggressive and abnormal behaviour due to boredom from excessive periods of confinement.
  • Early culling of sows
  • Note:  4.1.1 of the Code states that accommodation for pigs must be designed, constructed and managed in such a way that it protects pigs form adverse weather, injuries or other harm.
Benefits of stalls
  • Easier for stockpeople to individually supervise and examine animals and feed/water them
  • Easier to supervise and control adult pigs efficiently
  • Protection of piglets and easier supervision of sows and piglets at farrowing
  • Note:  these benefits are for handlers and stockpersons, not in the interest of the welfare of the pigs.

The Model Code of Practice states that all new installations of sow stalls must meet the following dimensions;
  • Sows  0.6 m x 2.2 m
  • Boars  0.7 m  x 2.4 m
All existing installations must now meet theses requirements of the Code:
  • 4.1.1 Accommodation for pigs must be designed, constructed and managed is such a way that it protects pigs from adverse weather, injuries or other harm.
  • 4.1.3 Sows and boars accommodated individually in stalls must be able to stand, get up and lie down without being obstructed by the bars and fittings of the stalls, lie with limbs extended, to stretch and to be ble to freely undertake such movements.            
  • Specifically, in the case of sows and boars:
  • a) They must be able to stand up at rest in a stall without simultaneously touching both sides of the stall.
  • b) When they lie down in the stall their snouts and hindquarters must not simultaneously be touching the ends of the stalls.
  • c) If the stall has bars along the top these must not be touching their backs when standing at rest or when they have their heads down feeding.
  • d) The placement of drinkers and/or feed/water troughs in the stall must be easily accessible to them, but must not prevent ability to stand, stretch and lie down.
  • e) When lying down, any contact with their neighbours in stalls on either side must not result in injury.
Note:  There is no phase out of existing small stalls if they meet the requirements above. There is no requirement to increase the size of these stalls to meet the dimensions for new stall installations. This essentially allows sows to continue to be kept in stalls only a fraction larger than their bodies indefinitely.

The Code also states that:
  • 4.1.5 From 10 years after endorsement of the code a sow must not be confined in a stall for more than 6 weeks of any gestation period.
From 2017, for pregnant sows there will be a maximum of 6 weeks (previously 16 weeks) confinement in stalls, after which they will be released into group housing situations with other sows i.e. they will be only be allowed to be closely confined until they are mated and their pregnancy is confirmed. However, there are also provisions within the code to allow the producer to keep sows in stalls for longer periods. At this stage there is no indication of how these requirements will be enforced.

Alternatives to Sow Stalls
  • Indoor group housing (smaller groups in large pens)
  • Straw based shelters
  • Free Range - outdoors

Farrowing Crates

Farrowing Crates are not the same thing as Sow Stalls

Farrowing crates were conceived in an attempt to reduce the trampling and crushing of piglets by the sow by forcing the sow to lie down slowly and carefully due to the tiny dimensions of the crate.  However, data provided by Australian Pork Limited states that the current industry average for pre-weaning deaths of piglets stands at 13.1% so this figure would indicate that farrowing crates are not as efficient as we are led to believe.  It is plausible then to assume that there would be little difference to mortality rates if the sows were to farrow in straw filled pens.

Just like sow stalls, farrowing crates are frowned on by consumers

A carefully designed pen, with one corner made inaccessible to the sow to form a creep area, is a cost effective way to farrow your sows.  The pens must be large enough to allow the sow to turn around and lay down with plenty of room for the piglets to escape her.  Straw bedding not only caters to the sows instinct to nest, it helps keep the piglets warm and dry when the litter is well maintained.  The bedding will also double as a valuable fertilizer on the farm, or a source of income (compost) when the sow is moved on.

Even for the intensive industry, there are alternatives

The benefits of not using farrowing crates are further discussed here under teeth clipping.

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The opinions, advice and information contained in this website have not been provided at the request of any person but are offered by  PROOF and Australian Pig Farmers solely for informational purposes. While the information provided has been formulated in good faith, it should not be relied on as a substitute for professional advice. Australian Pig Farmers, PROOF or do not accept liability in respect of any action taken by any person in reliance on the content of this publication.

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