Improving gestation housing for sows benefits piglets
Martyna Lagoda presented her research on gestation housing for sows at the recent Teagasc Pig Open Day. Here she tells us more about practical forms of sow enrichment, with knock-on benefits for piglet health.
Conventional gestation housing for sows does not fully cater to their need for comfort while resting or to perform investigatory behaviour, causing stress and impaired welfare and performance. This then negatively affects the health of their offspring by mechanisms of prenatal stress. However, we know what pregnant sows need and there are relatively easy ways of improving their comfort and the complexity of gestation housing to benefit them.
On a commercial farm, we installed rubber mats and natural fibre rope in the feeding stalls, and provided straw filled racks in the loose area. We compared welfare and performance indicators of sows in the IMPROVED housing to those of sows housed in conventional housing (CONTROL). Furthermore, we determined whether the benefits to sows arising from the IMPROVED housing mean more resilient, healthier piglets.
Indications of better welfare in IMPROVED sows included performance of fewer oral stereotypies and lower levels of inflammatory markers, i.e. less stress. IMPROVED sows produced fewer mummies and tended to produce heavier piglets at birth than CONTROL sows. Piglets of IMPROVED sows had lower intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR) scores and scoured less during the suckling period. The changes to the housing system improved aspects of sow welfare, which translated into improved health and performance of their offspring. These findings have important implications in an era of minimal antibiotic use and zero zinc.
Figure 1: Improving gestation housing for sows benefits piglets
Also read: Over 170 pig producers and industry stakeholders attended Teagasc Pig Open Day
Access the booklet from the open day here.