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Facilitating 'learning from mom how to eat like a pig' to improve welfare of piglets around weaning

By M. Oostindjer, B. Kemp, H. van den Brand, J. E. Bolhuis

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Piglets in commercial husbandry are weaned abruptly and at a rather young age. Many weanling piglets are poorly adapted to ingest solid food, often resulting in a period of underfeeding. The underfeeding generally leads to a poor growth, diarrhoea occurrence and the development of damaging behaviours such as belly nosing, indicating reduced welfare, in the immediate postweaning period. Weaning problems are multifactorial, but an early intake of solid food and reduced stress around weaning are major determinants of a quick adaptation of piglets to the new postweaning situation. In this paper we focus on improving welfare of piglets around weaning by allowing piglets to interact more with the sow during lactation, as would occur under more natural conditions. Besides providing piglets with more opportunity to learn from the sow about what, how and where to eat, we also discuss information transfer already before birth, perinatal flavour learning, and the merits of learning in an enriched environment. Being able to interact more with the sow is important to reduce the reluctance of piglets to eat novel foods, to increase preweaning solid food intake, and to reduce the development of damaging behaviours and increase play behaviour after weaning. Perinatal flavour learning reduced stress around weaning and increased postweaning performance and welfare. Preweaning enrichment of the environment, by providing substrates and a larger pen, can increase preweaning growth and development of feeding-related behaviours before weaning as well as food intake after weaning. Postweaning enrichment increased growth and play behaviour, and reduced the occurrence of diarrhoea and damaging behaviours. When enrichment is provided before weaning it is important to also provide enrichment after weaning. Learning from the sow and environmental enrichment are important for piglets to more easily adapt to being weaned. We conclude with recommendations for application of these results in current and future pig husbandry systems to improve welfare of newly weaned piglets.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 160
Pages 19-30
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Publisher Elsevier
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.09.006
Author Address Adaptation Physiology Group, Department of Animal Sciences, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 338, 6700 AH Wageningen,
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal husbandry
  3. Animal nutrition
  4. Animal physiology
  5. Animals
  6. Animal welfare
  7. Development
  8. Diarrhea
  9. Diseases and injuries of animals
  10. Enrichment
  11. Feed intake
  12. Growth
  13. Guidelines
  14. Intake
  15. Lactation
  16. Mammals
  17. Meat animals
  18. Parasites
  19. peer-reviewed
  20. physiology
  21. Physiology and biochemistry
  22. Pigs
  23. substrates
  24. Suiformes
  25. underfeeding
  26. ungulates
  27. vertebrates
  28. weaning
  1. peer-reviewed