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Provision of enrichment materials enhances play in sows around regrouping

Research shows that provision of point-source materials stimulates play in sows but does not affect aggression at regrouping.

8 February 2019, at 11:47am

Researchers Emma Catharine Greenwood, William HEJ Van Wettere, Jessica Rayner, Paul E Hughes and Kate J Plush set out to determine the effect of providing access to materials on aggressive and play behaviours in gestating sows.

The results of the FareWellDock study were published in the journal Animals under the title, Provision point-source materials stimulates play in sows but does not affect aggression at regrouping.

Abstract

When sows are mixed into groups, hierarchies form and resulting aggression and stress can affect production and welfare. Sows are important to a production system, as they are the driver behind the farms’ productivity. The aggression that results from sows being mixed into new groups and formation of hierarchy can detrimentally affect both production and welfare.

This study determined the effect of providing point-source materials on aggressive and play behaviours in gestating sows.

Large white cross Landrace sows were mixed after insemination; six pens of 12 sows were housed in ‘standard’ pens, and six pens of 12 sows were housed in ‘enhanced’ pens. The ‘enhanced’ pens each contained two rubber mats, eight strands of 24 mm-thick sisal rope and two yellow plastic disks, suspended from the roof. The sows remained in these pens until pregnancy confirmation.

Salivary cortisol concentration, injury counts, and sow behaviours were recorded the day before mixing (day 1), mixing (day 0) and post-mixing day 1, day 4, day 7 and day 20. At farrowing, reproductive outcomes were obtained.

Play behaviours were observed in the ‘enhanced’ pen and no play was observed in standard housing (without materials present).

Aggression measures, salivary free cortisol concentrations, and injury counts were unaffected by treatment.

The provision of point-source materials to sows at mixing had no impact on aggression; however, their presence maintained sow interest over the course of the experiment.

Additionally, play behaviour was observed in their presence, which may suggest that a more positive affect was induced when the materials were provided.