CZAAWE Resource Article

Sow free farrowing behaviour: Experiential, seasonal and individual variation
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Although sow confinement at farrowing is inherently stressful, farrowing crates remain in widespread commercial use. Sows adapt to their environment, however adaptation may be counter-productive if the farrowing system changes. The current study observed the behaviour of second parity sows throughout farrowing in a straw pen system to determine if their previous farrowing experience, in either the same pen system (n = 11) or a temporary confinement crate system (n = 11), affected current nest-building, farrowing and nursing behaviour. Data were analysed using PROC MIXED, with sow ID as the repeated subject. Sows which previously farrowed in pens tended to have a higher pre-partum peak nesting intensity (P = 0.081), and throughout parturition exhibited increased lateral lying (P < 0.01), decreased ventral lying (P < 0.001), decreased sitting (P < 0.01) and a decreased frequency of dangerous posture changes (P < 0.05). Post-partum, sows that previously farrowed in pens had a lower percentage of sow-terminated nursing (P < 0.01), a longer average duration of successful nursing bouts (P < 0.05) and a lower frequency of sow-terminated nursing bouts (P < 0.001). Seasonal effects were also seen in this naturally-ventilated system, both pre- and post-partum, with autumn/winter farrowings associated with more pre-partum nesting (P < 0.01), a higher pre-partum peak nesting intensity (P < 0.05), a longer average duration of successful nursing (P < 0.05) and a higher percentage of nursing bouts ending with piglets asleep at the udder (P < 0.05) than in the spring/summer. Individual variation in pre-partum nesting behaviour was associated with differences in parturient and post-partum behaviours. The results show that the prior experience of confinement, or a change of farrowing system, significantly affects sow farrowing behaviour in free farrowing pens, which may compromise the welfare of both sows and piglets.