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Animal Breeding and Genetics
Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences 2004;17(11): 1615-1634.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.5713/ajas.2004.1615    Published online January 1, 2004.
Review of Production, Husbandry and Sustainability of Free-range Pig Production Systems
Z. H. Miao, P. C. Glatz, Y. J. Ru
A review was undertaken to obtain information on the sustainability of pig free-range production systems including the management, performance and health of pigs in the system. Modern outdoor rearing systems requires simple portable and flexible housing with low cost fencing. Local pig breeds and outdoor-adapted breeds for certain environment are generally more suitable for free-range systems. Free-range farms should be located in a low rainfall area and paddocks should be relatively flat, with light topsoil overlying free-draining subsoil with the absence of sharp stones that can cause foot damage. Huts or shelters are crucial for protecting pigs from direct sun burn and heat stress, especially when shade from trees and other facilities is not available. Pigs commonly graze on strip pastures and are rotated between paddocks. The zones of thermal comfort for the sow and piglet differ markedly; between 12-22째C for the sow and 30-37째C for piglets. Offering wallows for free-range pigs meets their behavioural requirements, and also overcomes the effects of high ambient temperatures on feed intake. Pigs can increase their evaporative heat loss via an increase in the proportion of wet skin by using a wallow, or through water drips and spray. Mud from wallows can also coat the skin of pigs, preventing sunburn. Under grazing conditions, it is difficult to control the fibre intake of pigs although a high energy, low fibre diet can be used. In some countries outdoor sows are fitted with nose rings to prevent them from uprooting the grass. This reduces nutrient leaching of the land due to less rooting. In general, free-range pigs have a higher mortality compared to intensively housed pigs. Many factors can contribute to the death of the piglet including crushing, disease, heat stress and poor nutrition. With successful management, free-range pigs can have similar production to door pigs, although the growth rate of the litters is affected by season. Piglets grow quicker indoors during the cold season compared to outdoor systems. Pigs reared outdoors show calmer behaviour. Aggressive interactions during feeding are lower compared to indoor pigs while outdoor sows are more active than indoor sows. Outdoor pigs have a higher parasite burden, which increases the nutrient requirement for maintenance and reduces their feed utilization efficiency. Parasite infections in free-range pigs also risks the image of free-range pork as a clean and safe product. Diseases can be controlled to a certain degree by grazing management. Frequent rotation is required although most farmers are keeping their pigs for a longer period before rotating. The concept of using pasture species to minimise nematode infections in grazing pigs looks promising. Plants that can be grown locally and used as part of the normal feeding regime are most likely to be acceptable to farmers, particularly organic farmers. However, one of the key concerns from the public for free-range pig production system is the impact on the environment. In the past, the pigs were held in the same paddock at a high stocking rate, which resulted in damage to the vegetation, nutrient loading in the soil, nitrate leaching and gas emission. To avoid this, outdoor pigs should be integrated in the cropping pasture system, the stock should be mobile and stocking rate related to the amount of feed given to the animals.
Keywords: Free-range Pig; Sustainability; Production; Management; Husbandry

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