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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Post-Natal Behavioral and Physiological Responses of Piglets from Gilts Housed Individually Or in Groups During Gestation

Authors
item Sorrells, A - U.C. SAN FRANCISCO
item Eicher, Susan
item Scott, Karen
item Harris, M - UNIVERSITY OF WARWICK
item Pajor, E - PURDUE UNIVERSITY
item Lay, Jr, Donald
item Richert, B - PURDUE UNIVERSITY

Submitted to: Journal of Animal Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: October 21, 2005
Publication Date: January 15, 2006
Citation: Sorrells, A.D., Eicher, S.D., Scott, K.A., Harris, M.J., Pajor, E.A., Lay Jr, D.C., Richert, B.T. 2006. Post-natal behavioral and physiological responses of piglets from gilts housed individually or in groups during gestation. Journal of Animal Science. 84:757-766.

Interpretive Summary: Sow gestation housing remains a controversial animal welfare issue. Both sows and piglets may be affected by the stressful conditions of gestation housing systems. Thus, two different types of gestation housing were used to evaluate the stress imposed on gilts by each system and the effects on offspring by comparing productive, physiological, and behavioral measures from their piglets. Pregnant gilts (young female pigs) were assigned to groups (G) of four in pens or to individual stalls (S). Gilts were moved into individual farrowing (birthing) crates 5 days prior to the expected parturition date. All piglets were weighed at birth, d 14, and d 35. Two males from each litter were weaned at d 14. Lying, drinking, head in feeder, and eating mash (liquid feed necessary for piglets that were not eating) were observed for the first three days after weaning. Belly nosing (rubbing other pigs belly with its nose) and playing or fighting were observed for three days post-weaning. An isolation test (to test for coping ability) was performed on one randomly chosen piglet from each pen representing one sow on d 35. Time spent lying; the number of jumps against test box walls, and grunts and squeals were recorded. Samples of salivary cortisol (a stress hormone) were collected. Skin surface temperature of face, back, and shoulders was recorded pre- and post-test using thermal imaging. The blood was analyzed for immune communication and regulating proteins, and immunoglobulins. Piglets from S gilts weighed significantly less (10.3 kg) than G piglets (12.8 kg) by d 35. Piglets from S gilts showed less coping ability with the isolation by vocalizing more during the isolation test than did G piglets. However, salivary cortisol, skin surface temperatures, and immune measures were not significantly different between treatments. These data show some behavioral and production differences between piglets from individually stalled gilts and group housed gilts and point to some economic benefits for producers to group house gilts.

Technical Abstract: Sow gestation housing remains a controversial animal welfare issue. Both sows and piglets may be affected by the stressful conditions of gestation housing systems. Thus, two different types of gestation housing were used to evaluate the stress imposed on gilts by each system and the effects on offspring by comparing productive, physiological, and behavioral measures from their piglets. Landrace x Yorkshire gilts (n=48) were randomly assigned to groups of four in pens (n=8; G; 3.9 m x 2.4 m) or to individual stalls (n=16; S; 2.21 m x 0.61 m). Gilts from both treatment groups were moved into individual farrowing crates housed side by side 5 days prior to the expected farrowing date. All piglets were weighed at birth, d 14, and d 35. Two male pigs from each litter were housed together and weaned at d 14 and housed together again in pens (76.2 cm x 81.28 cm). Maintenance behaviors (lying, drinking, head in feeder, eating mash) were observed for the first three days of weaning using 10-min interval scan sampling. Belly nosing and play/fight interactions were observed for three days post-weaning via continuous observation. An isolation test (30 min duration) was performed on one piglet from each pen representing one sow on d 35. Time spent lying, the number of jumps against test box walls, and grunts and squeals were recorded in real time using the Observer® program. Samples of salivary cortisol were collected at 30-minute intervals from baseline (T0), post-test (T30), T60, T90, and T120. Skin surface temperature of face, back, and shoulders was recorded pre- and post-test using thermal imaging. The two barrows identified for post-weaning testing were bled via jugular puncture on d 2, 7, 14, 17, 21, and 28. Plasma was analyzed for TNF alpha by an ELISA and haptoglobin, alpha 1-acid glycoprotein, and IgG were analyzed by radial immunodiffusion. Data were analyzed using Mixed Models in SAS® as a repeated measures design. Piglets from S gilts weighed significantly less (10.3 kg) than G piglets (12.8 kg) by d 35 (P < 0.01). Piglets from S gilts also vocalized more during the isolation test (squeal freq = 19, grunt freq = 356) than did G piglets (squeal freq = 7, grunt freq = 138) (grunts P < 0.01, squeals P < 0.05). However, salivary cortisol, skin surface temperatures, and immune measures were not significantly different between treatments. These data show some behavioral and production differences between piglets from individually stalled gilts and group housed gilts. Further research, involving higher parity sows, is required to clarify this relationship.

Last Modified: 10/25/2014
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