Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)

Behavioral observation procedures and tests to characterize the suitability of sows for loose-housed farrowing systems

Abstract

The objective of the study was to evaluate behavioral observation procedures and tests to characterize sows’ behavior for their suitability for free farrowing systems. Nest building activity (NB), lying-down behavior (LDB), and position after lying down (PLD) were assessed. Four tests were designed to characterize the reaction of sows to a novel object and an unexpected situation (Towel Test, TT), behavior towards humans (Dummy Arm Test, DAT; Trough Cleaning Test, TCT), and behavior towards piglets (Reunion Test, RT). The study was performed on a nucleus farm in 37 batches including 771 purebred landrace sows housed in farrowing pens with short-term fixation. The assessment of NB started 2 days before the expected date of the farrowing. In 56.2% of the observations, the sows showed increased chewing activity on gunnysacks. The LDB and PLD were assessed on days 3 and 19 post partum (p.p.). In 49.1% of the observations, sows showed careful lying-down behavior. In 50.1% of cases, sows preferred the stomach-teats-position when lying down. With the DAT on day 4 p.p., in 89.3% of observations, no or only slight reactions of the sow were documented. The TT and TCT were performed on days 3 and 10 p.p. Strong defensive reactions of animals towards humans were recorded in 4.5% of the observations in the TT, and in 4.0% of the observations in the TCT. In the RT on day 3 p.p., in 61.8%, a joyful response of the sows to the reunion with their piglets was observed. This study showed that the behavioral observation procedures and designed tests are suitable to characterize sows’ behavior towards humans and piglets with regard to traits that are particularly important in systems without fixation.

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