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Improving welfare and production in the peri-weaning period: Effects of co-mingling and intermittent suckling on the stress response, performance, behaviour, and gastrointestinal tract carbohydrate absorption in young pigs

Turpin, D.L., Langendijk, P., Sharp, C., Pluske, J.R.
Livestock science 2017 v.203 pp. 82-91
absorption, body weight, cortisol, feed intake, galactose, gastrointestinal system, haptoglobins, mannitol, piglets, sows, stress response, suckling, weaning, weanlings
We investigated the effect of different pre-weaning interventions on performance, aspects of behaviour, and selected neuroendocrine, inflammatory and immune indices in 593 weanling pigs (59 litters, weaning age 22 ± 1.7). Measurements were taken at various time points two weeks before and after weaning. Sugar absorption tests (20% mannitol and 20% galactose solutions) were used to assess gastrointestinal tract (GIT) absorptive capacity. One week before weaning, litters were either co-mingled (CoM) for 8h daily with another litter or not co-mingled (NoCoM). Half of the litters were also subjected to intermittent suckling (IS) involving separation from their sow for 8h daily and the other half remained with their sow (NoIS). Hence, four treatments were produced in a 2×2 factorial design; (1) CoM IS (n = 16 litters), (2) CoM NoIS (n = 14 litters), (3) NoCoM IS (n = 16 litters), (4) NoCoM NoIS (n = 13 litters). Measurements are compared within each of the main effects (CoM or IS) unless otherwise stated. Acute weaning stress was evidenced by increases in cortisol, haptoglobin and N: L ratios when data were combined (P < 0.001). However, there were tendencies (P < 0.1) for lower cortisol in IS pigs and higher N: L ratios in CoM pigs at weaning. While CoM did not affect performance before weaning, growth (P < 0.05), feed intake (P < 0.05) and body weight (P < 0.05) were reduced in CoM pigs 7–14 days after weaning. One week of IS before weaning improved feed intake before weaning (P < 0.01), resulting in better growth (P = 0.01) and a tendency (P < 0.1) for a higher feed intake 2–7 days after weaning. Co-mingled piglets had more scratches 4 days before weaning (P < 0.001), but tended to have fewer scratches 2 days after weaning (P < 0.1). Pigs exposed to either IS or CoM displayed more sleeping behaviour the day after weaning (P < 0.01 and P < 0.001). A higher mannitol absorption was evident in CoM NoIS pigs 3 days after weaning (P < 0.01), and galactose absorption was reduced in IS pigs 3 days before weaning (P < 0.05) and tended to be reduced 3 days after weaning (P < 0.1), likely reflecting a GIT adaptive response. Overall, despite improvements in mannitol absorption and behaviour, there was no beneficial effect of CoM on performance after weaning. Alternatively, IS improved behaviour and performance during the first week after weaning.