Articles | Volume 60, issue 2
Original study
03 May 2017
Original study |  | 03 May 2017

Behaviour and performance of suckling gilts and their piglets in single housing with different fixation times

Ralf Wassmuth, Christoph Biestmann, and Heiko Janssen

Abstract. The objective was to evaluate suckling performance and behaviour traits of gilts and piglets in two different single-housing farrowing systems under practical conditions. Performance data of 70 crossbred gilts and their 842 piglets were collected. The behavioural observation included 17 gilts and 211 piglets. Gilts of the control group (full-time crating, FTC) were fixed during farrowing and suckling (Pro Dromi® 1), and in the experimental group (short-time crating, STC) gilts were fixed for 6 days postpartum (p.p.) only (Pro Dromi® 1.5). Six farrowing crates were included in each group, and six replications were carried out. Performance data were collected and gilts' and piglets' behaviour was observed with 10 min scan samples and categorized by standing, walking (only in STC), sitting and lying (side and belly). The management and the housing systems were in accordance with the Tierschutz-Nutztierhaltungsverordnung (TierSchNutztV, 2017). No significant (p  >  0.05) differences between FTC and STC were found in piglets born alive (13.2 and 13.9, respectively), loss of piglets (1.4 and 1.55, respectively) and weaned piglets including cross-fostering (12.0 and 12.4, respectively). Piglet loss due to crushing was 0.6 (FTC) and 0.64 (STC), with no significant difference (p  >  0.05). Overall, 82.5 % of all piglets killed due to crushing were lost from farrowing to day 2 p.p. The daily gain of STC piglets was significantly higher than that of FTC piglets (205 g vs. 199 g, respectively; p  <  0.05) during the suckling period (3 weeks). Concerning gilts' behaviour, significant differences (p  ≤  0.05) were found in sitting duration only (FTC 5.8 % and STC 4.0 %, respectively). FTC piglets spent more time lying, sitting and standing (7.4 % vs. 4.4 %, 0.5 % vs. 0.4 %, 9.6 % vs. 8.4 %, respectively; p  ≤  0.05). The reason could be the higher acceptance of the piglet nest in STC.

It was possible to conclude that gilts' welfare was improved by STC compared to FTC, and farrowing crates with loose single housing did not lead to higher piglet loss in the suckling period. An earlier end of the fixation period of the gilt at day 2 or 3 p.p. should be tested.

Short summary
Single housing with full-time crating is the typical system for keeping suckling sows, but animal welfare is neglected. Short-time crating is an alternative due to animal welfare. The objective was to compare the two systems under practical conditions. Short-time crated gilts did not cause an increased amount of loss of piglets due to crushing, and the daily gain of their piglets was higher. Behavioural observations showed that gilts' welfare was positively influenced by short-time crating.