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Behaviour of gilts before and at parturition after intensified human-animal contact, training to be driven, or exposure to a farrowing pen

Brötje, Anska, Gygax, Lorenz, Hillmann, Edna, Wechsler, Beat
Applied animal behaviour science 2018 v.200 pp. 56-66
farrowing, farrowing pens, gilts, human-animal relations, humans, insemination, maternal behavior, peers, piglets, pregnancy, rearing, sows
During rearing and until first insemination, housing conditions of gilts are relatively constant and the few human-animal interactions negative. Around first parturition, however, gilts experience intensified contact with stockpersons and are subjected to new management procedures such as being driven individually and exposed to an unknown housing system that includes separation from the peers, the farrowing pen. In the present study, we investigated whether pre-exposure to these procedures during rearing has positive effects on indicators of calmness and maternal behaviour in the farrowing pen.In Experiment 1, gilts were subjected to intensified human-animal contact during rearing (n=18), during pregnancy (n=9) or not at all (control: n=24). In Experiment 2, trained gilts (n=18) were driven singly through a passageway three times, 4 weeks, 3 weeks and 2 weeks before expected parturition, whereas untrained gilts (n=23) were not. In Experiment 3, twelve gilts were individually introduced to a training farrowing pen for 24h about four weeks before parturition, whereas nine control gilts could not gain experience in this environment before farrowing.In all three experiments, lying behaviour and comfort behaviour as indicators for calmness as well as nest-building behaviour and interactions with piglets as indicators of maternal quality were observed. Observations took place by video at first farrowing, both during the first 24h after they had entered the farrowing pen and from 1h before parturition until 1h after completed parturition.Around parturition, the proportion of lying in lateral recumbency when lying decreased from control gilts to gilts with intensified human contact during rearing and gilts with intensified human contact during pregnancy. It was smaller in gilts exposed to the farrowing pen before parturition compared to control gilts, and did not differ between gilts trained to be driven and control gilts. Gilts habituated to the farrowing pen displayed more nest-building behaviour and more interactions towards their piglets in comparison with control gilts. These behaviours were not influenced significantly by intensified human-animal contact or a training to be driven (experiments 1 and 2).In conclusion, the treatments had rather little effect on calmness and maternal behaviour of the sows. Early exposure to the farrowing pens seems to be the most promising treatment to be further studied, with potential effects on the frequency of nest-building behaviour and interactions with piglets.