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Title: Group housing during gestation affects the behaviour of sows and the physiological indices of offspring piglets at weaning

item ZHOU, QIN - Nanjing Agricultural University
item SUN, QINWEI - Nanjing Agricultural University
item WANG, GUOFU - Nanjing Agricultural University
item ZHOU, BO - Nanjing Agricultural University
item LU, M - Nanjing Agricultural University
item Marchant, Jeremy
item YANG, XIAOJING - Nanjing Agricultural University
item ZHAO, RUQIAN - Nanjing Agricultural University

Submitted to: Animal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/30/2014
Publication Date: 6/19/2014
Publication URL:
Citation: Zhou, Q., Sun, Q., Wang, G., Zhou, B., Lu, M., Marchant Forde, J.N., Yang, X., Zhao, R. 2014. Group housing during gestation affects the behaviour of sows and the physiological indices of offspring piglets at weaning. Animal. 8(7):1162-1169.

Interpretive Summary: The welfare of gestating sows in different housing systems continues to be a focus of attention in countries where close confinement systems are still allowed. The current study compared the behavior, cortisol, production and colostrum composition of sows housed in stalls or small groups and also some physiological measures of their piglets. The results showed that although the concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol were higher in group-housed sows, group-housed sows importantly showed lower levels of aggression and stereotypic behaviors, both known to be negative indicators of welfare, and spent less time sitting – a posture indicative of discomfort. They also spent more time engaged in non-aggressive, or positive, social behavior. There was no effect of housing system on the composition of the sows’ colostrum. Levels of total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol were higher in the piglets of group-housed sows, indicating that housing during gestation may impact subsequent physiology of the offspring. Based on the overall results, the welfare of sows housed in groups appeared better than the welfare of sows housed in stalls in this study.

Technical Abstract: In order to compare the behaviour of sows in stalls and group housing systems, and the physiological indices of their offspring, 28 sows were randomly distributed into 2 systems with 16 sows in stalls, and the other 12 sows were divided into 3 groups with 4 sows per pen. The area per sow in stalls and groups was 1.2 m2 and 2.5 m2, respectively. Back fat depth of the sow was measured. Salivary cortisol concentration of the sows, colostrum composition, and piglets’ serum biochemical indicators were evaluated. The behaviour of the sows, including agonistic and non-agonistic social behaviour, stereotypic behaviour and other behaviours at week 2, 9 and 14 of pregnancy were analysed. The data were analysed using Proc GLM, with repeated measures where appropriate. Back fat depth, colostrum protein, triglyceride and triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), prolactin concentrations in the whey showed no significant differences between the two housing systems. Salivary cortisol concentration was higher (P = 0.03) in the sows housed in groups than the sows in stalls. The concentrations of serum total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were higher in the offspring piglets of sows housed in groups (P = 0.006 and 0.005, respectively). Sows in groups performed more drinking and non-agonistic social behaviour, and less sham-chewing and agonistic social behaviour than sows in stall (P < 0.05). The duration of standing was longer (P < 0.01) and the sitting and stereotypic behaviour duration were shorter both (P < 0.05)in the sows housed in groups, compared with the sows in stalls. These results indicated that group housing has no obvious influence on the colostrum composition of sows, but it was better for sows to express their non-agonistic social behaviour and reduce the frequency of agonistic behaviour and stereotypic behaviour. Meanwhile, group housing during gestation significantly increased serum total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol of offspring piglets. Overall, group housing benefited sow welfare.