Does nursing behaviour of sows in loose-housing pens differ from that of sows in farrowing pens with crates?
Sows confined to farrowing crates are restricted in performing natural behaviour such as maternal behaviour. Loose-housing farrowing pens (LH) and farrowing pens with crates (FC) were compared regarding sows’ nursing behaviour via video analyses over four weeks per batch (one day per week). Nursing frequency was similar in LH and FC pens (1.25 ± 0.82 vs. 1.19 ± 0.75 nursings/sow/hour; p > 0.05). However, nursing duration differed between the two systems (LH: 5.7 ± 4.6 min vs. FC: 7.0 ± 5.0 min; odds ratio (OR) 1.168, p = 0.011). In LH pens, more nursing bouts were sow-terminated than in FC pens (OR 0.427, p = 0.001). The probability of sow-terminated nursing occurring increased from week 1 to week 4 (OR 3.479, adjusted p (padj) < 0.001), while that of observing unnursed piglets decreased from week 1 to week 4 (OR 0.301, padj < 0.001) and rose with increasing litter size (OR 1.174, p = 0.010). We conclude that nursing behaviour was affected by the farrowing system, with shorter nursing duration and more nursing terminations by the sow in LH than in FC pens. Since this corresponds to the nursing behaviour of sows in semi-natural conditions, it can be assumed that sows in LH pens are more likely to exhibit natural nursing behaviour.