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Postnatal behavioral and physiological responses of piglets from gilts housed individually or in groups during gestation

Sorrells, A. D., Eicher, S. D., Scott, K. A., Harris, M. J., Pajor, E. A., Lay, D. C., Richert, B. T.
Journal of animal science 2006 v.84 no.3 pp. 757
gilts, piglets, animal housing, stocking rate, animal behavior, animal well-being, animal stress, feeding behavior, drinking, saliva, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, cortisol, blood chemistry, body weight, parity (reproduction), pregnancy
Gestational housing of sows remains a controversial issue that may affect the well-being of both sows and piglets. Therefore, 2 types of gestational housing were used to evaluate the stress imposed on pregnant gilts by each system and the effects on the offspring by comparing production, physiology, and behavioral measures of the piglets. Forty-eight Landrace x Yorkshire gilts were randomly assigned to groups (G) of 4 per pen (n = 8 pens; 3.9 m x 2.4 m) or to individual stalls (S; n = 16 stalls; 2.21 m x 0.61 m). Gilts were moved into individual farrowing crates 5 d before the expected farrowing date. Piglets were weighed at birth, d 14, and d 35. Two barrows from each litter were weaned at d 14 (early weaning) and housed together in pens. Maintenance behaviors (head in feeder, drinking, lying, eating mash) were videotaped and observed for the first 3 d after weaning using a 10-min interval scan sampling. Belly nosing and play/fight interactions were recorded from video observations for 3 d postweaning. An isolation test (30-min duration) was performed on one piglet from each pen of barrows on d 35. Time spent lying, the number of jumps against test box walls, and grunts and squeals were recorded in real time. Salivary cortisol was collected at 30-min intervals from baseline, and 0, 30, 60, and 90 min posttest. Jugular blood was collected from 2 barrows from each litter on d 1, 7, 14, 17, 21, and 28. Plasma TNF-[alpha] was analyzed by ELISA, and haptoglobin, [alpha]₁-acid glycoprotein, and immunoglobulin G were analyzed by radial immunodiffusion. More piglets from the S treatment needed to be fed a liquid feed at weaning and drank more frequently on d 2 postweaning (P < 0.05). Additionally, by d 35 piglets from S gilts had a lighter BW (10.3 kg) than G piglets (12.8 kg; P < 0.01). Piglets from S gilts also grunted more during the 30-min isolation test (number of grunts = 356) than G piglets (number of grunts = 138; P < 0.01). Salivary cortisol and immune measures were not different. These data show some behavioral and production differences between piglets from individually stalled gilts and group-housed gilts. Therefore, there may be production advantages to housing first parity gilts in groups.