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The implications of chronic stress in gestating sows for sow performance and welfare and for the resilience of her piglets to stress and disease

Project summary:

Group living is a stressful experience for sows.  Apart from the acute stress of mixing they experience chronic stress over competition for resources and bullying etc. These problems have implications for sow welfare and performance but also expose offspring to pre-natal stress which may render piglets less able to cope with stress or disease challenges.   Given the amount of medications used to protect piglets at weaning this has serious implications for antimicrobial resistance. The objective of this Walsh Fellowship project is to evaluate the effect of chronic stress on pregnant sows on welfare, health and productivity and on the resilience of their piglets in terms of coping ability and health.  Antibiotic usage will also be monitored.  We also aim to quantify the impact of chronic stress on reproductive performance and identify risk and protective factors associated with different housing and feeding systems for pregnant sows.  We will collaborate with the SRUC, Scotland and the Institute of Genetics and Animal Breeding in Poland on this project. 

 Expected benefits:

  • SowWeanWel will help to improve sow welfare during gestation which will have additional benefits in terms of better health and sow longevity
  • Piglets will be exposed to less stress pre-natally and therefore will be more resilient to stress and disease challenges at weaning ultimately requiring fewer antibiotics
  • Society will benefit from improvements to animal welfare, improved environmental sustainability (less wastage of sows) and reduced risk of antimicrobial resistance
  • A reduction in chronic stress during pregnancy will lead to improved sow reproductive performance and therefore better financial viability for pig producers
  • Additionally because of the reduction in prenatal stress more efficient and faster growing offspring will be produced.
  • Knowledge will be generated for the pig advisory service and PVPs on risk and protective factors associated with different housing and husbandry systems to minimise chronic stress in sows

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