Peri-parturient changes in behaviour in free-ranging domestic pigs

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Hygiene, Section of Animal Behaviour, P.O.B. 345, S-532 00 Skara, Sweden
Applied Animal Behaviour Science (Impact Factor: 1.5). 04/1987; 17:69-76. DOI: 10.1016/0168-1591(87)90009-8

ABSTRACT The behaviour of 6 Swedish Landrace gilts in enclosures of 7 and 13 ha was studied for 7 h per day during 7 days around farrowing time. A significant increase in the frequency of locomotion was recorded 2 days before farrowing. The distances walked, as measured by number of coordinates crossed per day, increased during the same period. Average distances to nearest neighbours increased significantly 1 day before farrowing. The farrowing nests, which were built on the day before farrowing or on the farrowing day, were all situated well away from the normal home range. It is suggested that the motivation for this increase in mobility, with the apparent function to isolate the nest site from the rest of the herd, is the explanation of the increse in activity frequently recorded in sows in pens during the days before farrowing. The functional significance and the practical consequences of these behaviour patterns are discussed.

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    ABSTRACT: Since January 1 2013, group housing of sows has been compulsory within the European Union (EU) in all pig holdings with more than ten sows. Sows and gilts need to be kept in groups from 4 weeks after service to 1 week before the expected time of farrowing (Article 3(4) of Directive 2008/120/EC on the protection of pigs). The legislation regarding group housing was adopted already in 2001 and a long transitional period was allowed to give member states and producers enough time for adaptation. Even so, group housing of sows still seems to be uncommon in the EU, and is also uncommon in commercial pig farming systems in the rest of the world. In this review we share our experience of the Swedish 25 years of animal welfare legislation stipulating that sows must be loose-housed which de facto means group housed. The two most important concerns related to reproductive function among group-housed sows are the occurrence of lactational oestrus when sows are group-housed during lactation, and the stress that is associated with group housing during mating and gestation. Field and clinical observations in non-lactating, group-housed sows in Sweden suggest that by making basic facts known about the pig reproductive physiology related to mating, we might achieve application of efficient batch-wise breeding without pharmacological interventions. Group housing of lactating sows has some production disadvantages and somewhat lower productivity would likely have to be expected. Recordings of behavioural indicators in different housing systems suggest a lower welfare level in stalled animals compared with group-housed ones. However, there are no consistent effects on the reproductive performance associated with different housing systems. Experimental studies suggest that the most sensitive period, regarding disturbance of reproductive functions by external stressors, is the time around oestrus. We conclude that by keeping sows according to the pig welfare-friendly Directive 2008/120/EC, it is possible to combine group-housing of sows with good reproductive performance and productivity. However, substantially increased research and development is needed to optimize these systems.
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