In the 24-h period prior to parturition, sows are active and motivated to perform nest-building behavior. The aim of this study was to investigate whether prepartum activity (nesting and postural changes) could predict maternal behavior 24 h postpartum, piglet mortality, and BW gain 24 h postpartum in farrowing pens and crates. Sows were randomly moved either to a farrowing pen (n = 20) or a farrowing crate (n = 18). Prepartum nest-building behavior (PRE-nesting) and prepartum postural changes (prepartum postural changes) were analyzed 24 h before the birth of the first piglet (BFP) and were divided into twelve 2-h intervals. Latency of the first suckling from the litter was observed after the birth of the last piglet. Udder accesses and piglet suckling were noted at 5-min intervals, using 1/0 sampling, during the first 24 h after BFP were counted. Piglet trapping, crushing, and total live-born mortality were measured during the first 72 h after BFP. Piglet BW gain was estimated 24 h after BFP.
Increased PRE-nesting observed 2 h before BFP were associated with fewer suckling intervals in crates but not in pens (P < 0.01) as well as an increase in postural changes during parturition (P < 0.001) in both housings. A link between housing and PRE-postural changes was evident. An increase in the number of PRE-postural changes 2 h prior to BFP was associated with lower incidences of udder access in crates but not in pens (P < 0.05). A higher probability of piglet trapping was associated with increased PRE-nesting in the 2 to 4 h before BFP. No significant relationship between either PRE-nesting and postural changes and piglet BW gain and mortality was detected.
Our results suggest that increased prepartum activity 2 h before parturition is associated with less suckling and less udder access in farrowing crates but not in farrowing pens. This suggests that the same sow behavior can have different consequences in pens vs. in crates. Future research should focus on nest-building activity, its relationship to endocrine indicators (e.g., oxytocin, cortisol) before parturition, and its potential long-lasting effects on subsequent maternal behaviors and piglet production.
G. Illmann, H. Chaloupková, M. Melišová. Impact of sow prepartum behavior on maternal behavior, piglet body weight gain, and mortality in farrowing pens and crates. Journal of Animal Science, Volume 94, Issue 9, September 2016, Pages 3978–3986, https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2016-0329