What are farrowing crates?

What is a farrowing crate or stall?
Pig farrowing crates are metal crates within a pen where pregnant sows are placed prior to giving birth. Farrowing crates prevent the sows from turning around and only allow them to move a little forwards and backwards.

Alongside the farrowing crate, within the pen, there is a “creep area” for the sow’s piglets. The piglets are able to reach the sow’s teats to suckle but she is prevented from being able to clean or interact with them.

​What is a farrowing crate used for?
After giving birth to piglets, there is a possibility that the sow will crush them. A fully-grown sow can weigh around 200 - 250 kg, a piglet, on the other hand, weighs just one to two kilos. So, if she accidentally steps or even lays down on one of her newly born piglets, she can injure or even kill them.

The bars of the farrowing crate allow the sow to stand up and lay down, reducing the risk of harming her piglets.

Why do sows crush their piglets?
When the sow lays down to rest or to suckle her young, she may inadvertently crush one of them.

What are the advantages of farrowing crates?
Farrowing crates make for a more economical way of keeping sows indoors since a typical crate allows for a sow and her litter to be kept in an area of roughly three and a half metres square. They also reduce the possibility of accidental infant mortality and hence increase production and economic return.

Why are farrowing crates bad?
Farrowing crates are a major concern because they prevent sows from being able to turn around freely and build their nests. Even if nest building material is provided, which it often isn’t, they do not have room to carry out this behaviour. Sows are usually confined from before birth until their piglets are weaned at around four weeks old. Not allowing sows to behave naturally can make them frustrated and stressed, also savaging of piglets by the sow is more likely to occur in farrowing crate systems.

Are farrowing crates legal?
Despite a petition which aimed to outlaw their use, farrowing crates are still legal in the UK. Today approximately 58% of UK sows are kept in farrowing crates around the time of giving birth. None of these is on RSPCA Assured farms as farrowing crates are strictly prohibited.

Where are farrowing crates banned?
The routine use of farrowing crates has been banned in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland with Austria moving to temporary crating by 2033, and Denmark planning on having 10% free farrowing accommodation by 2020. However, their use is still widespread in many countries around the world.

How long are sows kept in farrowing crates?
Pregnant sows are usually placed in farrowing crates about five days before they are due to give birth, and they are kept in them until the piglets are weaned at approximately 28 days of age.

Are there viable alternatives to using farrowing crates?
Pigs on the RSPCA Assured scheme are kept loose, either indoors with more space to move about and material such as straw to root around in and nest build with, or outdoors with access to a dry, bedded and comfortable shelter.

What is the difference between a farrowing crate and a sow stall?
A farrowing crate confines the sow from up to a week before birth, generally until the piglets are weaned. Farrowing crates are restrictive pens that prevent the sow from turning around, and which aim to reduce the risk of the sow lying on and crushing her newborn piglets. Farrowing crates are legal and common practice in the UK and Europe.

Sow stalls (also sometimes referred to as gestation crates) are individual, narrow stalls in which the sows are housed throughout their pregnancy (about four months) until they are about to give birth. Sow stalls have been banned in the UK since 1999 but are still used in many countries around the world.

What is the difference between gestation crates and sow stalls?
Sow stalls can also be known as gestation crates. These are just different names for the same thing.

What does the RSPCA say about farrowing crates?
The RSPCA welfare standards for pigs which must be met for any pork products, including sausages, bacon and ham, to be labelled RSPCA Assured, don’t allow pigs to be kept in farrowing crates. Sows must be given room to turn around freely at all times and bedding such as straw to build their nests.

Pigs on RSPCA Assured farms
For more information on our standards for pigs on RSPCA Assured farms please visit our pig welfare page.

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