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Higher light intensity and mat temperature attract piglets to creep areas in farrowing pens

  • G. M. Morello (a1), J. N. Marchant-Forde (a2), G. M. Cronin (a3), R. S. Morrison (a4) and J.-L. Rault (a1)...

Abstract

Loose farrowing pens have been considered as alternatives to crates to enhance sow welfare. A major concern with pen systems is often higher piglet pre-weaning mortality, especially due to crushing by the sow. An optimal management of light and mat surface temperature may promote greater piglet use of the creep, which has been associated with reduced piglet crushing. A total of 108 sows and their piglets were studied in sow welfare and piglet protection pens on a commercial piggery, across two replicates. Sows were randomly assigned to pens arranged within two creep treatments (bright creep: 300 lx v. dark creep: 4 lx), considering mat temperature as a covariate. Twelve sows and their litters in each treatment (24 in total) had their behaviour continuously recorded for 72-h postpartum (pp), and four focal piglets per litter were weighed on the first and third days pp. In situ behaviour observations were performed daily (from 0800 to 1700 h) on all sows and their litters, every 15 min over 72-h pp to record piglet time spent in the creep, latency to enter the creep for the first time, latency for the litter to remain in the creep for at least 10 min, and piglet and sow use of pen areas immediately in front of (A2) and farthest from the creep (A3). Piglets with access to bright creeps spent on average 7.2% more time (P<0.01) in the creeps than piglets in pens with Dark creeps. In addition, for each degree increase in mat temperature, piglets spent on average 2.1% more time (P<0.01) in the creep. Piglets in pens with bright creeps spent less time in A2 (P=0.04) and the least time in A3 (P=0.01). Light or mat temperature did not affect sow use of pen areas or piglet weight gain. Piglets with bright creeps tended (P=0.06) to take longer to enter the creep for the first time after birth, but the latency for 30.0% of the litter to remain clustered for 10 min tended (P=0.08) to be shorter in bright compared to dark creeps. Overall, piglet use of the creep increased with warm mat temperatures and brightness, which should be further investigated as potential strategies to promote piglet safety and reduce crushing in pen farrowing systems.

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a

Present address: Institute for Research and Innovation in Health, University of Porto, 208 Alfredo Allen St., Porto 4700-135, Portugal.

b

Present address: Institute of Animal Husbandry and Animal Welfare, University of Veterinary Medicine, A-1210 Vienna, Austria.

c

Mention of any trade name, proprietary product or specific equipment does not constitute a guarantee or warranty by USDA-ARS and does not imply its approval to the exclusion of other products that may also be suitable. The USDA-ARS is an equal opportunity and affirmative action employer and all agency services are available without discrimination.

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