Submitted to: International Society of Applied Ethology
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/24/2002
Publication Date: 8/7/2002
Citation: MARCHANT FORDE, J.N., DAMM, B.I., PEDERSEN, L.J., GILBERT, C.L. DOES FEED-BACK FROM A NEST AFFECT PERIPATURIENT BEHAVIOR, HORMONES AND HEART RATE IN GILTS?. INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY OF APPLIED ETHOLOGY. 2002.
Technical Abstract: In order to elucidate the effects of feed-back from a farrowing nest 20 gilts housed in Schmid pens were given the opportunity to build a nest of peat, straw and branches. Ten sows then had their nest removed (NR) 10h after the onset of nest-building and again every 4h until parturition whereas 10 sows kept the nest (C). Sow periparturient postures, nest-building behaviour and responses to piglet-initiated snout contact and time from birth until suckling in piglets were recorded. Moreover, periparturient heart rate was measured and blood samples were taken via a jugular catheter every 20 minutes over the last 7h prepartum and analysed for plasma cortisol and oxytocin. During the last 4h prepartum plasma cortisol was higher for NR than C sows (p=0.04) whereas oxytocin was unaffected by treatment. Treatment did not have an overall effect on heart rate. However, as parturition approached the heart rate increased in NR but not in C sows (p=0.03), although there was no difference in postural or nest-building behaviour. The maternal responsiveness towards piglets and the frequency of postural changes were higher during the first 2h after birth of the first piglet than in the following 6h (p<0.0001 and p<0.0001), after which both increased again (p=0.09 and p=0.01). NR sows were more responsive towards piglets than C sows (p<0.0001) and piglets from NR sows took significantly longer from birth until first suckling than piglets from C sows (p=0.05). The prepartum increase in cortisol levels and heart rate in NR sows suggests that lack of feed-back from a nest was stressful and this apparently affected sow behaviour towards piglets and early teat searching behaviour in piglets. The results emphasise the importance of an appropriate farrowing environment and the opportunity to construct a nest, particularly in loose-housed sows where the survival and well being of the piglets depend greatly on the behaviour of the sow.