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Effects of parity and litter size on cortisol measures in commercially housed sows and their offspring
- Roelofs, Sanne, Godding, Lisa, de Haan, Jeanne R., van der Staay, Franz Josef, Nordquist, Rebecca E.
- Physiology & behavior 2019 v.201 pp. 83-90
- breeding, cortisol, farrowing, group housing, litter size, low birth weight, males, parity (reproduction), piglets, pregnancy, progeny, sows, stress response
- Breeding sows are regularly exposed to on-farm stressors throughout the duration of their production period. The impact of such stressors may differ for primi- and multiparous sows, as sows could learn to cope with stressors as they gain experience with them. If parity affects stress in sows, it may also impact their prenatal offspring through differential maternal stress. In addition to parity, litter size is another potential factor involved in stress of sows and piglets. Larger litters may be a source of discomfort for gestating sows, while it can result in intra-uterine growth restriction of piglets. In the current study, we aimed to assess whether parity and litter size affect cortisol measures in breeding sows and their offspring. To do this, we measured salivary cortisol concentrations of 16 primiparous and 16 multiparous sows at three time points: 1) while sows were group housed, 2) after sows were separated from the group prior to moving to the farrowing unit and 3) after handling procedures. In addition, hair cortisol concentration was determined for the sows during late gestation and for their low birth weight (n = 63) and normal birth weight (n = 43) offspring on day 3 after birth, to reflect in-utero cortisol exposure. It was expected that if sows adapt to on-farm stressors, the more experienced, multiparous sows would show decreased stress responses in comparison to primiparous sows. However, we found a comparable acute stress response of primi- and multiparous sows to separation from the group. Handling procedures did not influence sows' salivary cortisol concentrations. Sows' hair cortisol concentration was positively correlated with litter size. Future research is needed to assess whether this finding reflects increased stress in sows carrying larger litters. Parity or litter size did not have a direct effect on their offspring's hair cortisol concentration. Larger litters did have a higher occurrence of low birth weight piglets. For these piglets, females had higher neonatal hair cortisol concentrations than males. Overall, our results indicate that breeding sows do not adapt to all on-farm stressors. In addition, litter size may influence HPA axis activity in both sows and piglets.