BackgroundThe main objectives of this observational, cross-sectional study were to characterize piglet producing farms in Finland and to investigate how farm profiles are associated with sow culling and mortality.The study was conducted on 43 farms during 2014. A questionnaire survey was administered in-person and supplemented with observations in the housing facilities. Annual removal figures and average monthly sow inventories were retrieved from a centralized animal data recording system (National Swine Registry) administered by the Finnish Food Authority. Multiple correspondence analysis and hierarchical clustering were used to explore the complex underlying data-driven patterns.ResultsSow removal varied markedly between farms with an overall average culling percentage of 38.0% (95% CI 34.1-42.0) and a relatively high average mortality percentage 9.7% (95% CI 7.9-11.5). We identified three farm clusters, which differed both in their typologies and removal patterns. Cluster 1 included farms with features indicative of a semi-intensive or intensive kind of farming, such as larger herd and room sizes, higher stocking density and more sows per caretaker. Most of the cluster 1 farms exceeded the investigated cut-off levels for culling and mortality. Cluster 2 farms were estimated to have the best animal welfare among the sample farms based on a combination of environmental indicators (e.g. amount of bedding, rooting and nesting materials, space allowance, pen cleanliness) and the lowest level of sow mortality as an animal-based indicator. Cluster 3 farms followed a strategy of a rather non-intensified system based on the predominance of smaller herd size, lower stocking density and less sows per caretaker, combined breeding and gestation rooms and rare use of farrowing induction. This cluster showed the lowest culling levels within the sample.ConclusionsThis study captures the diversity among Finnish sow farms and provides a baseline assessment of their practices and facilities. Our results support the notion that farm typologies are associated with sow culling and mortality. In summary, the control of suboptimal sow removal cannot be based on single improvements only, because of other limitations within the individual farm resources.
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