Demonstrating Farrowing Alternatives for Small-Farms:
Insulated Tents for Sows and Pigs, Project Summary
Farmers raising pigs for niche markets are usually prohibited from using farrowing crates and must provide bedding and greater space per sow than typical commodity production. Because current consumer expectations dictate that pigs be produced year-round, crate-free farrowing options for cold weather are necessary and many niche pork companies will not accept new producers into their program unless they agree to farrow pigs during winter months. Several crate-free farrowing systems for cold weather have been demonstrated in Iowa, however those alternatives generally require a permanent, well-insulated structure and/or tremendous amounts of energy to provide a suitable environment for the newborn pig. Beginning farmers often struggle to include livestock on their farms due to lack of investment capital and long-term leases or other forms of land permanency. A yurt is a circular (7.3 m diameter), insulated tent which might be suitable for farrowing small groups of pigs. Over the course of 2 years, four groups of 4 sows were farrowed in a modified yurt at the Allee Demonstration Farm, Newell Iowa. Ambient temperature within the yurt was consistently 10–15°C warmer than the outside temperature during winter farrowings. Thermal conditions were more variable in the summer and pre-wean mortality was 10% higher during summer farrowings than in winter. Pre-wean mortality rates were larger than typical in the U.S. Pork Industry, but were similar to other crate-free farrowing systems. The yurt is a semi-permanent modular structure that can be modified to farrow small groups of pigs. Wide-spread adoption of commercially manufactured yurts for farrowing pigs in Iowa is unlikely, but the pig management strategies and techniques developed during the course of this project will inform the continued on-farm refinement of crate-free farrowing systems for cold weather.