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Maternal infanticide in sows: incidence and behavioural comparisons between savaging and non-savaging sows at parturition

By CongYing Chen, C. L. Gilbert, GuangCheng Yang, YuanMei Guo, A. Segonds-Pichon, JunWu Ma, G. Evans, B. Brenig, C. Sargent, N. Affara, LuSheng Huang

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Aggressive behaviour by newly farrowed sows towards their own offspring, known as savaging, occurs commonly in the domestic pig, with a significant impact upon both the agricultural economy and animal welfare. The aims of this study were to investigate the incidence and nature of this behaviour and to compare other behaviours between savaging and non-savaging sows around parturition in 226 F2 sows that were produced by two highly divergent pig breeds of Chinese Erhualian and western Duroc with significantly genetic difference on maternal behaviours and were raised at three different pig farms. Each of these sows was housed in individual 2 m x 2.5 m pens with concrete floors. Three kilograms of fresh straw was provided to sows before parturition. Behaviour observations were made from 5 h before parturition to 24 h afterward using real time 1:0 sampling. Savaging sow was defined as an apparently deliberate attack on one or more piglets that resulted in the death, by biting, of at least one piglet. The incidence of savaging was: farm 1, 10.7% in gilts (n=103) and 5.3% at the second farrowing (n=94); farm 2, 14.6% (n=48) and 6.25% (n=16), respectively; farm 3, 6.8% (n=44) at the second farrowing and 3.2% (n=31) at the third farrowing. The incidence of savaging tended to be higher in gilts (P=0.058) although some savaging gilts were killed before their second litters. There was no effect of the different farms on incidence of savaging. Prepartum nest building behaviours were not a predictor for savaging, but savage sows had a greater frequency of posture change from before parturition through the expulsive phase. This restlessness included an increase in rearing behaviour and a reduced ability to lie down carefully without endangering piglets. We suggest that savaging is part of a more generalized behavioural pathology that includes increased excitability and is not specifically piglet directed.

Date 2008
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 109
Issue 2/4
Pages 238-248
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Language English
Author Address Key Laboratory for Animal Biotechnology of Jiangxi Province and The Ministry of Agriculture of China, Jiangxi Agricultural University, 330045 Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, China.
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Aggression
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal genetics
  4. Asia
  5. Birth
  6. Breed differences
  7. China
  8. Developed countries
  9. Dog Breeds
  10. Genes
  11. Genetics
  12. Gilts
  13. Infanticide
  14. Litters
  15. Mammals
  16. Maternal behavior
  17. peer-reviewed
  18. quantitative traits
  19. Swine
  20. traits
  1. peer-reviewed