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An exploratory study on the effects of a straw dispenser in farrowing crates

By A. Bulens, L. Renders, S. van Beirendonck, J. van Thielen, B. Driessen

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The effect of a straw dispenser in farrowing crates was investigated to determine the extent to which the provision of small quantities of straw has an influence on both sows and piglets. Sows and suckling piglets are often housed in barren environments with limited opportunities to show behavior they are highly motivated to perform. Enriching the environment might be a solution; for example, by providing materials that can be manipulated. In this study, 20 sows received a straw dispenser with chopped straw (treatment group) and 20 other sows did not receive any enrichment (control group). The treatment group was split up in 2: in treatment group A, the straw dispenser was placed in front of the sow, above the feed trough; and in treatment group B, the straw dispenser was placed next to the sow. Sows from the treatment groups received the straw dispenser from arrival in the farrowing crate until weaning. The total straw use within the treatment group was very variable but did not differ before and after farrowing. Sows took on average 53.0 g (8.85) straw from the straw dispenser during the whole period in the farrowing crate. The frequency of undesirable and stereotypical behavior performed by the sows did not differ between treatment and control groups, and the same is seen with nest-building behavior before farrowing. By positioning the dispenser in front of the sow, the frequency of lateral lying increased, which means the udder was exposed more toward the piglets. This was reflected in the higher frequency of udder activity, performed by piglets from this treatment group. By positioning the dispenser next to the sow, sows showed more ventral lying behavior, because of disturbance of lying behavior by piglets. Piglets from this treatment group also showed less udder activity and possibly because of this, more pain-related behavior. These piglets performed more playing behavior in the third week of life compared with other groups, but it cannot be stated with certainty that this is a positive effect. A lower weight gain and weaning weight were seen in piglets within treatment group B. Possible explanations are the higher level of activity among these piglets as the straw dispenser was positioned within their reach or decreased milk consumption because of decreased udder activity and increased ventral lying by the sows. It can be concluded that the straw dispenser has positive effects on the behavior and welfare of sows and piglets, but positioning the straw dispenser in reach of both sow and piglets is not preferred as it is associated with undesirable effects on behavior such as ventral lying in sows and pain-related behaviors in piglets.

Publication Title Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research
Volume 9
Issue 2
Pages 83-89
ISBN/ISSN 1558-7878
DOI 10.1016/j.jveb.2014.01.001
Language English
Author Address KU Leuven, Thomas More Kempen, Kleinhoefstraat 4, B-2440 Geel,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animals
  3. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  4. Consumption
  5. Effect
  6. Enrichment
  7. Farrowing
  8. Mammals
  9. Milk and dairy products
  10. peer-reviewed
  11. performance traits
  12. Pigs
  13. sows
  14. Straw
  15. suckling
  16. Suiformes
  17. udders
  18. ungulates
  19. vertebrates
  20. weaning
  21. Weight
  1. peer-reviewed