Annette Pontillo
Institute of Organic Farming

Trenthorst 32
23847 Westerau
Phone: +49 4539 8880 0
Fax: +49 4539 8880 120

Kontrollstellennr.: DE-ÖKO-006

Piglet nest


 (c) Thünen-Institut/Katharina Heidbüchel

Measures for optimizing the use of a piglet nest in organic pig husbandry

Organic pig husbandry aims at a high animal welfare standard, part of which is a low level of piglet losses. Ensuring that piglets are kept warm after farrowing, and protecting them against being crushed by the sow are measures to improve piglet survival. Both warmth and protection can be achieved by a well designed and frequently used piglet nest.

Background and Objective

In organic pig husbandry, sows and piglets are kept in free farrowing pens, allowing them to move freely during farrowing and lactation. The piglet nest is a microclimate zone with higher temperature than the rest of the pen, because piglets have a higher need for warmth than the sow. Therefore the piglet nest protects the piglets against hypothermia, which is associated with piglet losses.  Also, piglets resting in the piglet nest are protected against being crushed by the sow.

The aim of this study is to identify conditions under which the piglet nest is most used. Measures of design and management should increase the use of piglet creep area to reduce piglet losses in the first days after farrowing.


The experiment takes place at the eco-certified research farm of the Thünen Institute of Organic Farming, Trenthorst, between 2018 and 2020. Around 160 litters will be analyzed with regard to the impact of 8 different combinations of measures on behavior, biological performance, health status, losses, and costs. 4 different designs of a piglet nest (underfloor heating vs. overhead heating as well as with vs. without lighting) and 2 different management measures (confinement of piglets in piglet nest during the first feeding times of the sow vs. no confinement) will be combined and compared.

Data and Methods

All litters will be video recorded during the first 72 h after farrowing to determine the number of piglets within in the piglet nest as well as the resting areas and resting times of piglets. In addition general performance parameters of each animal and economic indicators of the different measure combinations will be recorded.

The recorded data should allow conclusions whether there are differences in behavior, growth and losses of piglets due to heat source, lighting or confinement in piglet nest and whether there are interactions between these measures.

In addition to the experiment on station, several organic farms will be visited in order to document the status quo of piglet nests on German farms. The design of farrowing pens with focus on piglet nest, the management and the labor input will be inquired on-farm. The survey should identify a possible correlation between design of piglet nest and piglet losses as well as further need for research.

Preliminary Results

The project is still running, therefore no results are available yet.


Involved Thünen-Partners

Involved external Thünen-Partners

Funding Body

  • Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE)
    (national, öffentlich)


5.2018 - 2.2022

More Information

Projekt type:
Project funding number: 2817OE014
Funding program: EU - ERA-NET Core Organic Cofund
Project status: ongoing


hits: 1

  1. Heidbüchel KL, Baldinger L, Bussemas R (2020) Behavioural observations of sows and piglets in a free farrowing pen with a focus on the piglet nest. In: Organic Animal Husbandry systems - challenges, performance and potentials: Proceedings of the IAHA Video-Conference on Organic Animal Husbandry, 21. and 22. September 2020. pp 109-110