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New research highlights sows' intrinsic desire to exercise

Research underway at the Prairie Swine Centre shows gestating sows are intrinsically motivated to exercise.

9 March 2020, at 10:29am

In response to requirements in Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs for gestating sows housed in stalls after 2024 to be provided greater freedom of movement or an opportunity for exercise, scientists are evaluating the influence of exercise on welfare and productivity.

Speaking to Farmscape, Dr Yolande Seddon, an Assistant Professor of Swine Behaviour and Welfare with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine and NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Swine Welfare, explains the first step was to determine how motivated sows are to have an opportunity to exercise.

"We actually trained sows to press a panel that had two buttons where they learned that pressing one of the buttons would result in a reward, time out of the stall for three minutes," says Dr Seddon.

"Pressing the opposite button would result in a handful of food in their trough as a feed reward.

"We compared the motivation of individual animals to receive either exercise or food to identify what she would work harder for.

"Our first experiment compared sows and gilts and identified that both did not differ in their motivation to receive freedom of movement outside of the stall.

"Whereas sows actually had a greater motivation to receive a handful of food as opposed to time out of the stall, the gilt was equally motivated to receive extra feed and time out of the stall.

"We took from this that, because the animals were wanting to work for time out of the stall, that there is a level of motivation that the animals have to have some control over their environment and to exit the stall. For the sow that is restricted on feed and is recovering from lactation, her higher motivation was to receive extra food."

Dr Seddon says when extra food was provided there was a higher motivation to work to exit the stall.