Sows are more vulnerable towards transport than most other pig categories

  • Subject
    Review of scientific knowledge about sow transport against the background of the relevant European legislation
  • Target audience
    Competent Authorities, inspectors and welfare policy workers of the EU Member States
More info and sources
In Europe, a culling rate of around half of the sows per herd per year is not unusual, which means that millions of sows are transported to slaughter each year. The specific welfare risks of transporting cull sows to the abattoir are addressed in a EURCAW-Pigs review.

Across the different pig categories, transport is a multifactorial stressor, with effects on all pig types. Some scientific attention has been directed towards the cull sow category, forming the basis of the EURCAW-review. Among the primary concerns for the welfare of cull sows during transport are (a) the sensitivity of these animals towards heat stress; (b) fitness for transport; and (c) the tendency of sows to fight when mixed with unfamiliar conspecifics.

Heat stress

The reproductive status of sows affects their susceptibility to heat stress, and ongoing milk production probably is a risk factor compared to dry animals. Sows can be sent to slaughter at all stages of the reproductive cycle (except for the last 10% of pregnancy (according to Council Regulation 1/2005), and in some MSs, sending sows to slaughter in the last 30% of pregnancy is prohibited by national legislation. In the days just before and after weaning of the piglets, lactating sows are especially sensitive to heat stress, as their milk production is very high at this stage.

Fitness for transport

EFSA (2022) concluded that questions about fitness for transport are among the major concerns for sow welfare during transport. Due to the general health impairment of a large proportion of cull sows, compared to average finishers, sows may experience a higher risk of worsening of pre-existing health conditions, as well as a higher risk of new health conditions occurring during transport.

In the review on transport of sows, the scientific knowledge about sow transport is reviewed against the background of the relevant European legislation, including a discussion of preparation for transport, how sows are picked-up by vehicles and the journey to an abattoir. The final part of the review covers relevant legislation as well as the proposal of potential indicators of sow welfare during transport.

Introphoto: Transport of sows (©Mette Herskin_AU)