We studied how "sow-controlled" housing (i.e. housing where sows can leave their piglets at will) affects the behaviour and performance of sows and litters when tested under near-commercial conditions and with two different levels of piglet diet quality. Sows and litters were housed in pens where sows had access to a piglet-free area ("sow-controlled", n=28) or did not have such access ("confined", n=26). Half of the litters in each treatment had access to a standard diet offered as creep feed from day 7, and the other half had a more complex diet that was richer in protein and fat. Piglets with access to the more complex diet consumed 50% more solid food before weaning than piglets provided the standard creep feed, and continued to eat more after weaning (days 29-49). The complex diet did not affect piglet body weight at weaning or at the end of the experiment, but did result in 52% greater weight gain during the first week after weaning. There were no other effects of diet or diet by housing interactions. Sows in the confined pens nursed their piglets 10% more often than did those in the sow-controlled pens and consumed 18% more food during lactation (i.e. until day 28). Before weaning, piglets in sow-controlled housing ate 65% more solid food than those in the confined pens, but the confined piglets weighed 11% more at weaning (day 28). With their greater intake of solid food before weaning, piglets in sow-controlled housing lost less weight on day 29 than did piglets from confined litters, but they still weighed less at the end of the experiment (14.5+or-0.4 vs. 15.8+or-0.4 kg). Of the sows in the sow-controlled housing, those that spent the most time away nursed their piglets less often, consumed less food, and lost less weight over lactation; piglets of these sows consumed more creep feed before weaning, lost less weight on the day of weaning and gained more weight during the following week. Thus, both high-complexity creep feed and sow-controlled housing led to small improvements in piglet performance at weaning, as long as the mother spent considerable time away from the piglets. The sow-controlled housing may also provide advantages to the sows, especially in terms of reducing the demands of lactation.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
|Author Address||Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Docteur Penfield Avenue, Montreal, Que. H3A 1B1, Canada. firstname.lastname@example.org|
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