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Enrichment helps reduce sow stress and piglet mortality

Enriching sow environments during pregnancy can help improve sow welfare and increase piglet survival, scientists say.

Research carried out as part of the PROHEALTH project — Europe’s largest-ever project working to combat pig production diseases — found levels of stress in sows is lower in systems where the animals are able to display more natural behaviors.

And they found that piglet mortality during farrowing and within 12 hours of birth is lower among less-stressed sows.

Previous PROHEALTH research found enriched housing systems — where sows were group-housed on deep straw litter and had 3.5m2 per sow — can help reduce maternal stress.

In this latest study, researchers wanted to see how enriched environments and sow diets could reduce maternal stress during pregnancy, and its subsequent impact on piglet mortality.

During the project, scientists compared three systems used during pregnancy: conventional slatted floors, and enriched systems which offer deep straw litter and additional space.

The third system featured slatted floors enriched with manipulable material and straw pellets. In this system, sows were given pieces of oak attached to a chain to encourage investigative behaviour, while pellets were provided after each meal from 3 to 104 days of gestation.

Ahead of farrowing, all 83 sows were transferred into pens and housed in identical crates on slatted floors.

Scientists then monitored sow behavior and measured cortisol concentrations in saliva to monitor maternal stress.

They discovered that during late pregnancy, cortisol concentrations were greater in conventional systems than enriched ones, while levels in the enriched conventional system were intermediate.

Sows in the enriched system also showed fewer signs of frustration.

During farrowing and within the first 12 hours of birth, piglet mortality during farrowing and within 12 hours of birth was four percentage points lower.

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Posted on September 17, 2018

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