Optimal housing and handling of breeding animals

Housing in the growth period is key in ensuring individual animal quality, especially in regard to longevity and lifetime production. Focusing on housing conditions is an important element that should start in the farrowing unit.


Housing conditions

Housing conditions in the growth period are an important factor in the overall quality of the breeding animals in the herds. Not only are housing conditions essential contributors to animal health and welfare, but also in the overall conformation and future productivity.

Strategically locating the gilts will ensure socialisation and positive interaction with staff members.

Aside from social contact, the placement of gilts takes account of increased daily monitoring, enabling faster reactions to behavioural problems and signs of illness.

Pen layout

The layout of pens for breeding animals must accommodate high-quality animals and natural behaviour at the same time. Promoting natural behaviour will enhance positive behaviour in the breeding animals in general, thus ensuring animals that are easily handled and ultimately resulting in higher overall quality and customer experience.

The pen layout accommodates both animals and employees – easy cleaning and access to the pens combined with the possibility of enhancing natural behaviour.

The pens must ensure optimal and uniform growth in the breeding animals – e.g., as shown here with sufficient space during feeding, resulting in minimum fighting in the pens.

Pen layout for breeding animals should include solid partitioning in the resting area. Breeding animals will be calmer when they are not able to see neighbouring animals from the resting area. This is however also a way of accommodating natural behaviour as the breeding animals prefer to rest against a solid surface, rather than open space due to natural instincts. Note that partitions between the pens should have a height of approximately 1 m. This will keep the animals from jumping between pens and also reduce injuries if they try to jump the pens.

The resting area should be well-defined, with a distinct transition from the slats and of high quality. Furthermore, the resting area should be:

  • free of draught.
  • provided with straw, wood shavings or similar on a daily basis.

The well-defined resting area should be combined with partitions in the slatted area that allow for nose-to-nose contact. This will stimulate natural dunging behaviour, which is further enhanced through visibility and contact with neighbouring animals through the bars. Overall this pen layout takes both natural behaviour and increased animal quality into consideration – but also reduces time spent cleaning the pens.

Dividing the pens, and bars in the slatted area promotes natural soiling behaviour and makes cleaning the pens easier and less time-consuming.

Using sprinklers in the slatted area will further promote the natural dunging behaviour and reduce unwanted soiling, especially in periods with warmer weather.

Drinkers or water troughs can be placed  In the transition from solid flooring to slats. This will minimise the risk of wet pens from the drinkers. These can be supplemented with nose drinkers in the slatted area, which are suited for breeding animals.

Drinkers and water troughs must be checked on a regular basis. Both checking general water supply, but also the flow level – an everyday check could include a simple push to check flow.

If water troughs are also installed in the pens, everyday checks should also include cleaning when needed. A steady supply of clean drinking water is essential.

Pens for breeding animals should besides quality, take workflow and management routines into consideration. Working with breeding animals should always be as easy as possible to minimise potential stress to the animals. One thing can be to minimise issues during the movement of animals. If the pen doors are placed in a corner, it will easily be possible to move animals from one pen to another. And if the pen door is also able to open with the use of only one hand, the moving animals can also be handled by a single employee.


The factors with the greatest impact on claw health, conformation and overall conformation are flooring and pen environment. Floor construction and the surface used in the pens are vital for the overall quality of the animals and the development of exterior flaws and illnesses such as:

  • OC – osteochondrosis
  • Calluses

It is recommended that approximately half to 2/3 of the flooring in the pens are solid or drained concrete floors. This type of flooring will usually benefit normal claw-wearing, while also minimising damage caused by large slat openings. The wearing of the claws is essential to normal movement, as long and uneven claws can cause disabled and wobbly movement. This is also why these floor types are not recommended:

  • Fully slatted floors
  • Plastic grates/plastic slats
  • Deep litter (straw bed) – can only be advised at the beginning of the growth.

Example of pens in the weaning unit, where the flooring is half iron slats and the other half is the solid floor. In addition, this pen layout provides the smallest pigs with additional heat through the covered creep area.

Example of the pen layout for breeding animals over 30 kg – one half being the solid floor and the other half concrete slats, with long troughs and without a covered creep area.

The slatted area in the pens must be designed with specific measurements to ensure the quality of the animals. Concrete elements are preferred, with a slat width of 60-80 mm and a slat opening width of 18-20 mm.

The floors must be intact and non-slippery in order to minimise the risk of injuries e.g. during hierarchy fights as much as possible. Damages to breeding animals during growth should, if possible, be avoided in order to avoid permanent damages that will compromise animal quality and productivity.

The type of floor in the pens is crucial to non-slippery environments. Plastic grates can be embedded in the concrete floor to improve non-slippery floors, but you must be aware of grates coming out of the concrete and injuring the animals.

Regardless of the floor type, it is essential that additional precautions are taken, so damages from slips are avoided – cleaning the pens on a daily basis is also recommended.

Climate and Environment

In addition to the layout of the pens, the climate and surrounding environment must also be considered a factor. The temperature in the units affects the growth rate of the animals, by affecting feed intake and general health, which is why it is essential to always focus on the optimum temperature level in all stages.

In the weaning unit, the focus must be on both room temperature as well as floor temperatures in the covered area.

Weight (kg) Temperature below cover (°C) Floor temperature  below cover (°C) Room temperature (°C)
5,5 31-32 32 25-26
6,0 30-31 32 24
7,0 29-30 32 24
8,5 28-29 32 23
11,0 27-28 32 22
14,0 26-27 32 21

Make sure to follow up on temperature settings and pre-set curves – and check the thermostat and different sections physically on a daily basis.

When the temperature is only regulated through room temperature, it is essential to follow the pre-set curve. But also important to adjust the curve when needed, and according to the actual size and age of the animals.

During the remaining period, in the rearing unit, room temperature should be the primary adjustment, where floor heating can slowly be phased out due to the size of the animals and minimised the need for additional heat.

Weight, kg Temperature, C°
Breeding animals 15 22-24
25-40 18-22
40-100 15-20

*Based on ray ventilation – using diffuse ventilation and having dynamic movement of animals, extra attention should be given to temperature adjustments in the individual herds.

In the rearing unit, there is often dynamic insertion of animals, making it difficult to have recommendations based solely on room temperature. Room temperature is based on the all-in-all-out principle and is, therefore, dependent on a utilised capacity. In cases with dynamic insertion of animals, additional heating should be possible in each section. The pens should be made with covers on the solid floor up to 30 kg (two-climate pens), and possibly with regulative cover supplemented with floor heating or the possibility of a bedded resting area.

Two-climate pens provide the opportunity to accommodate the versatile needs of different animal sizes in one section, especially immediately after weaning.

The use of curtains, combined with covers, will also ensure a more uniform temperature below the covered area and retain heat in the pens.

In larger breeding animals the climate requirements change once more, as the need for cooling in the pens is also relevant. It is recommended, to place sprinklers in all pens with animals larger than 20 kg, which can also be combined with a high-pressure cooling system to use when additional cooling is needed.

However, bear in mind that ultimately the most essential tool in management is observing the animals and their behaviour in the given environment.

Make sure to check all the animals in the pens – if the pens are covered, this must be lifted a minimum of once a day, to make sure all animals are checked.

Observing the animals is a big part of the daily operation, but make sure that observations are made also when walking through another matter. All observations count and as many observations as possible are recommended when managing animals and making sure that quick action can be taken when needed.

Sorting and Stocking Density

Production of breeding animals should generally involve a heightened focus on sorting animals in the different units. Different animals have different needs. Sorting should start already at weaning, also with an increased focus on space and overcrowding. Both elements in ensuring the future quality of the breeding animals, which will be compromised by overcrowding in the pens.

When moved to the weaning unit, sorting can easily be finalised, when they are already pre-sorted from the farrowing unit.

Sorting should begin at weaning, where the animals should be sorted by size – thus ensuring that the smallest animals can be collected in one pen and given extra attention.

Sorting breeding animals

Sorting breeding animals at weaning does not differ significantly from sorting regular weaners. However, there are several considerations to be made and taken into account, and there should also be an increased focus on both purebred and crossbred F1 breeding animals.

Breeding animals should be sorted by:

  • Breed
  • Gender
  • Size and age
  • The smallest pigs are collected in a special pen, with extra environmental conditions for their care.

Sorting the pigs by breed is important, as purebred animals require more focus and can in some cases be more sensitive. Aside from the general sorting, optimal group sizes are in the weaning section, which is also why it is not recommended to have more than 25-30 pigs per pen after weaning.

Breeding animals should be kept in separate pens, and not be mixed with other animal groups. In addition, they should be sorted by gender, to accommodate separate needs in gilts and boars.

Yorkshire gilts are gathered in one pen – the breed is marked with an orange plate below the yellow CHR ear tag, which also increases focus on the breeding animals in the herd.

Breeding animals should be collected around shared feed dispensers, as this will accommodate increased focus further and uniform feeding and growth in the breeding animals.

Around 30 kg, the animals in the pens can be divided once again. It is not recommended to sort the animals further at this time, but only divide the pens into smaller groups. This will further ensure uniform conditions for growth and make sure that extra space is given. It is only recommended to house breeding animals in stable groups. Stable groups, as mentioned earlier, should only consist of breeding animals (respectively gilts and boars) – approximately 8-12 animals per pen starting from 30 kg, as studies have shown that an increased number of animals in the pens will compromise uniformity, and more of the animals will pull away and lie on the slatted area – meaning that quality of housing conditions and animals will decrease.

Division after 30 kg can be made in the same section, or by moving the animals to a separate section specially designed for breeding animals.

The division accommodates an increased area per pig, as well as fewer animals in the pens – in addition, it is optimal to hang pen cards at this point, ensuring all animals are known at all times in the pens.

These stable groups should be maintained until animals are sold or the first heat is detected – after this point, it is recommended to move the gilts to the mating unit if they are for the herds’ own replacement.

Area requirements and overcrowding

It has been documented that breeding animals need additional space during growth compared to finishers. The increased space requirement arises with the need for a movement that enables muscular and skeletal development and thus ensuring the longevity of the animals.

Overcrowding decreases the quality of the animals, movement is restricted, and thus the animal’s conformation and carrying capacity is impaired. Overcrowding reduces animal productivity in the form of reduced growth and the risk of delayed puberty. A larger floor area per animal accommodates the productivity and quality of the animals. The symbiosis between productivity and quality is clear in a reduced fight for feed, improved body composition, and generally a lower level of aggression and stress in the pens.

Additionally, the area per animal has a large effect on stability within the groups, which is why stocking recommendations should be followed and overcrowding avoided throughout the growth period. The guidelines are based on free accessible floor area, hence excluding troughs and other inventory.

Weight, kg Recommended area, m2 Comments
< 10 0.15
10-20 0.20
20-30 0-30
30-50 0.40
50-85 0.75 – 1.00
85-110 0.75 – 1.00
> 110 1.50 – 1.90 Min. 0.5 m2 well-defined resting area

* Recommended area does not include the floor area under the trough.
** When using long troughs, an area of 0.4 m trough space per animal and a depth of 0.3 m  is calculated.

Use of long troughs with room for all animals during feeding, minimising fights during feeding.

Increased room in the pens accommodate not only the animals but also the employees during selection, where there is room to watch the animals move.

The pen area requirement is meant as a guideline – the primary goal should be that there is room for all animals in the pens at all times. If floor feeding is used, it is advantageous to add on the floor area per animal to ensure adequate eating space for all animals.

Handling of breeding animals in the rearing unit

The housing and layout of the pens cannot stand alone when developing the quality and productivity of the breeding animals. The daily routines and the employees handling the animals during growth are also vital elements during this period. The daily routines must be organised to meet the animals’ needs throughout the growth period and to accommodate the highest possible quality of the animals, both physical and behavioural quality.

  • All animals are inspected at least once a day (preferably several times) by trained employees – be aware of any signs of disease and general behaviour.

Inspection of animals should not only consist of a general disease check but also focus on positive interactions between animals and employees.

Make sure all animals are checked – if the pens have a covered area, make sure to lift it at least once a day to ensure that all animals get up and are inspected
  • Clean out the pens on a daily basis – clean and dry floors are essential to the quality of the animals.
    • Wet and unclean floors increase the risk of slippery floors and accumulate ammonia, both of which reduce claw health and quality.

Scraping and cleaning the pens should be done during feeding, while it is also easy to form a general overview of the animals in the pen.

If regular cleaning of the pens are not sufficient, wood shavings or other bedding material can be used in the pens to ensure dry floors.
  • Weekly follow-up on daily gain and growth in the pens and different age groups.

The animals’ actual age and weight compared to the recommended optimum are an important tool and a good indicator of successful growth.

If issues arise, or you question growth and development in the pens it can be beneficial to follow up with an expert to ensure optimal growth in the future.

All management and routines should be planned and executed with a focus on predictability and uniformity throughout the entire growth period, and handling of breeding animals in this period are key elements in their future behaviour and lifetime productivity in the breeding system.

Socialising Breeding Animals

Throughout the growth period, socialisation is highly important for herd productivity and general welfare – including animal quality and longevity. The socialisation of breeding animals includes both interactions between employees and animals, but also between animal groups.

Everyday contact with the animals should always be as calm as possible, in order to ensure positive interactions between employees and animals. The focus should be on behaviour in all routines implemented in during growth – through efficient implementation of good routines and avoiding ineffective routines causing negative interactions.

Contact with the animals can also include a quick pass by on the way to another job.

The daily check-up of animals consists not only in monitoring signs of disease, but also in contact with the animals and employees taking time to walk through the pens.

By introducing some simple measurements into the daily routines, and interactions with the breeding animals will result in a more social breeding animal. Pigs respond in general, by either exhibiting fear, aggression, or trust according to how they are handled. Studies show that the time spent with the animals has a significant impact on how easily they are handled in the herds. In addition, it also affects daily gain, feed conversion and reproduction efficiency in a positive manner. Make sure to keep these simple notes in mind during the handling of the breeding animals:

  • Minimise fear in the animal
  • Avoid rough and inappropriate handling
  • Try to make positive interactions, even with unpleasant routines, such as vaccinations.

In other words; calm and stress-free human interactions enhance social qualities in breeding animals, thus both individual reproductive performance and improving herd productivity.

Make sure to also spend time and walk through the pens at other times than the time of vaccinations – thus ensuring positive relations.

When cleaning the drinking bowls or feed dispensers, squat down in the pens as it will further enhance positive relations and interactions.

In everyday routines and management, this can be translated into more general notes for employees:

  • Act decisively
  • Act safe and predictable
  • Have frequent contact with the animals
  • Use your voice in a positive tone, and make sure you also have physical contact with the animals as you roam the pens.

As you enter the pens, it is essential that the animals approach you, and not the other way around – allowing the animals to get used to this interaction. Pens should be entered a minimum of once per day so that you are not only entering when it is time for vaccinations or other negatively associated procedures. An excellent way to make animals calm, and used to human contact and interaction is by walking next to and in front of their heads.

Socialisation applies to all age groups and housing sections. Positive interaction with the animals is essential for future handling and productivity – providing straw or similar material will further induce positive relations.

For example, during selection, or other times when the animals’ ear tags are read with the scanner, it is possible to socialise with the animals – this also eases final selection, as they are easily scanned and not fleeing from the employees

All of this, combined with frequent interactions and contact, will ensure improved behaviour and have a positive effect on future productivity as well. The daily routines must prepare the animals for a life as a highly prolific breeding animal – meaning that all steps must come together in ensuring quality and health in the animals.

Vaccination and Immunisation of Breeding Animals

A plan should be made for the herd vaccination and immunisation of breeding animals, and also for the herd in general. The plan is made in collaboration with the herd veterinarian, taking into account the age of the different animal groups and the overall health status of the herd.

Indicative vaccination program for breeding animals during the growth period:

Vaccine 1. vaccination 2. vaccination Revaccination Comments
Glässer 12 weeks

15 weeks

18 weeks 2-3 weeks before every farrowing
Porcine Parvo Virus – PPV 26 weeks 3 weeks after

1. vaccination


By weaning

Suitable for revaccination at 1st, 3rd and 5th parity
PCV2 4 weeks 2-3 weeks before every farrowing
Clostridium (and E. coli) 6 weeks before first farrowing 2 weeks before first farrowing 2-3 weeks before first farrowing
Influenza 26      weeks 3 weeks after the first vaccination 2-3 weeks before every farrowing Can be given as blitz vaccine 2-3 times a year

* Breeding animals for sale should also meet the specific demands of customers and possibly, individual market specifications.

In addition to a planned and scheduled vaccination program, natural immunity should also be taken into consideration. In fully sectioned units, it is difficult to ensure the animals’ immunity through natural infections in the herd. In these cases, it might be necessary to spread faeces from e.g. gestating sows to the breeding animals, as this will ensure further immunisation. However, this should only be done in agreement with the herd veterinarian.

Plan the vaccinations and be sure to follow the vaccination program and the setup routines. Ensuring that all animals are vaccinated in a timely manner.

Remember to revise the vaccination program periodically and update the information also with DanBred – revision and preparation should always be done in consultation with the herd veterinarian.

Alternatively, it is only in the mating unit younger gilts will come into contact with older sows, and it is possible to ensure natural immunisation. At this point interactions between gilts and newly weaned sows should be a focus area, as this will increase the immunity and thus ensure high health.

My notes for Rearing conditions


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