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Comparison of nest-building materials in farrowing crates

Swan, Kirsi-Marja, Peltoniemi, Olli Aarno Tapio, Munsterhjelm, Camilla, Valros, Anna
Applied animal behaviour science 2018 v.203 pp. 1-10
cortisol, farmers, farrowing, farrowing crates, lactation, maternal behavior, mortality, necropsy, nesting, paper, piglets, saliva, sows, straw, weaning, weight gain, wood shavings
The farrowing crate restricts the performance of natural behaviour of sows, such as nest building, by limiting both sow movement and use of suitable nest-building materials. Restriction leads to short- and long lasting changes in farrowing, maternal behaviour and lactation. We investigated the effects of the provision of a variety of nest-building materials in a restricted farrowing environment on sow behaviour, the course of farrowing, saliva cortisol concentrations and piglet performance. The study was carried out in two parts. In the first phase six materials were either attached to the farrowing crate or offered in amounts of 1–2 L in front of the sows (n = 40): Object on the ground, Object on the side, Wood shavings, Straw, Shredded paper and Newspaper. Video recordings of sow behaviour were analysed from 12 h prepartum until the sixth piglet of each litter was born. No differences in sow behaviour between the treatments were found. The results and functionality of the materials entailed that straw, wood shavings and newspaper were investigated further in second phase of our investigation. Data on the mortality of the piglets were collected by the farmer (n = 199 litters), post mortem examinations were performed on all dead piglets of 66 litters. Video recordings were analysed for pre- and peripartum behaviour (n = 19), salivary cortisol samples were collected twice daily and analysed from days −2 to +2 pre- and postpartum (n = 47). Mean litter weights were determined on days 2, 4, 6 and at weaning (n = 55). The newspaper group performed more nest-building (p = 0.04) and less bar-biting (p < 0.001) activities than the straw and the wood shavings groups. Mortality during lactation was lower in the straw group than in the other groups during the entire lactation period (p < 0.001), and lower in the straw group than in the wood shavings group during the first three days of lactation (p < 0.001). No differences in cortisol concentrations, piglet weight gain or in the course of farrowing were found. We conclude that different nesting materials stimulate sow peripartal behaviour differently, which in turn could impact upon sows behaviour, piglet performance and welfare.