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Behaviour and skin injuries of sows kept in a novel group housing system during lactation

Schrey, Lilith, Kemper, Nicole, Fels, Michaela
Journal of applied animal research 2018 v.46 no.1 pp. 749-757
animal health, animal welfare, commercial farms, crates, farrowing crates, farrowing pens, group housing, lactating females, lactation, piglets, skin lesions, sows, suckling
Keeping sows in single housing systems with farrowing crates can affect animal health and welfare. The aim of this study was to investigate the behaviour and health of lactating sows kept in a novel group housing system which could be easily installed on commercial farms. The housing system had five farrowing pens without crates, a common area and an area only available for piglets. Data from 25 sows were collected in five batches. Sows’ location and activity, suckling behaviour and floor soiling were analysed by video or direct observation. Skin lesions were determined using a lesion score. Group housing of sows did not increase the number of skin injuries, since the lesion score decreased during the housing period (19.2 vs. 16.3 vs. 12; p < .05). Before the piglets left the pens, sows were mostly inside the pens (83.4%; p < .05) and the highest faecal-soiling was found in the common area. The common area was used intensively by the sows, particularly since the piglets left the pens (4th week: 63.5%). The suckling frequency remained constant (6th week: 1.2/h); cross-suckling occurred rarely (7.6%). Sows were able to perform natural behaviours in the new housing system, potentially increasing animal welfare.