Interpretive Summary: Sow stress levels and behavior and piglet performances in farrowing crates and farrowing pens with temporary crating
By: Megan LaFollette
In August 2018, Journal of Animal Science published an article that investigated the effects of farrowing pens with temporary crates, as an alternative to continuous crating, on sow and piglet welfare. It is common practice to confine sows to crates throughout the entire lactation period to reduce piglet crushing and mortality which can occur during sow posture changes. Unfortunately, this practice compromises sow welfare in several ways, including increasing chronic stress, reducing freedom of movement, and restricting interactions with piglets. A potential compromise that could enhance both sow and piglet welfare is using temporary sow crates that are only used for the first 3 days of lactation. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects using temporary sow crates instead of permanent crating on both (1) sow activity and stress and (2) piglet behavior and performance.
In this study, 27 Large White x Landrace sows that had been inseminated with Large White x Pietrain board semen were housed in either permanent or temporary crating. All sows were moved to a crate 5 days before giving birth. Then, temporarily crated sows were released from their crates 3 days after giving birth, while permanently crated sows remained in their crates throughout lactation. For enrichment, all sows received a bag of chopped straw every morning and evening throughout the project. Piglets received creep feed beginning when they were 7 days old. Sows were assessed for their behavior (i.e. activity and posture changes) and stress physiology (i.e. salivary cortisol and IgA). Piglets were also assessed for their behavior (i.e. activity) and performance (i.e. mortality and bodyweight gain).
The results from this study indicated that sows showed small short-term behavioral and physiological benefits from temporary confinement. However, sows did not show any long-term welfare effects. On the day that sows were released from their crates to their pens, sows were more active, rolled more frequently, and had lower salivary IgA concentrations (an indication of stress) than those sows still in their crates. Sow salivary cortisol was never affected.
The results from this study also indicated that piglet behavior and performance was unaffected by temporary confinement. Piglets did not differ in their mortality, bodyweight, or activity based on whether their sows were housed in permanent or temporary confinement.
Overall, this study suggests that temporary crating for a short period during lactation – instead of permanent crating – may have small short-term positive effects on sow behavior and stress, without harming piglet performance. There was not a higher incidence of crushing in pigs allowed to move into pens 3 days after lactation. Therefore, temporarily crating sows for the first 3 days after giving birth and then releasing them into pens may be a feasible solution to improve pig welfare in intensive production facilities.
To view the full article, visit the Journal of Animal Science.