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

Q. Zhou, Q. Sun, G. Wang, B. Zhou, M. Lu, J. N. Marchant-Forde, X. Yang, R. Zhao
Animal 2014 v.8 no.7 pp. 1162-1169
agonistic behavior, backfat, colostrum, cortisol, group housing, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, mastication, piglets, pregnancy, progeny, prolactin, social behavior, sows, stereotyped behavior, triacylglycerols, triiodothyronine, weaning, whey
To compare the behaviour of sows and the physiological indices of their offspring in stall and group-housing systems, 28 sows were randomly distributed into two systems with 16 sows in stalls, and the other 12 sows were divided into three groups with four sows per pen. The area per sow in stalls and groups was 1.2 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 behaviour, non-agonistic social behaviour, stereotypical behaviour and other behaviours at weeks 2, 9 and 14 of pregnancy were analysed. The results showed no differences in the back fat depth of sows. Colostrum protein, triglyceride, triiodothyronine, thyroxine and prolactin concentrations in the whey also demonstrated no significant differences between the two housing systems. Salivary cortisol concentration was significantly higher in the sows housed in groups than the sows in stalls. The concentrations of serum total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were significantly higher in the offspring of sows housed in groups (P=0.006 and 0.005, respectively). The GLM procedure for repeated measures analysis showed the frequency of drinking, and non-agonistic social behaviour was significantly higher in the sows housed in groups than the sows in stalls; yet the frequency of agonistic and sham chewing demonstrated the opposite direction. The duration of standing was significantly longer in the sows housed in groups, but the sitting and stereotypical behaviour duration were significantly shorter compared with the sows in stalls. These results indicated that group housing has no obvious influence on the colostrum composition of sows; however, it was better for sows to express their non-agonistic social behaviour and reduce the frequency of agonistic behaviour and stereotypical behaviour. Meanwhile, group housing during gestation significantly increased serum total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol of offspring.