The more frequent the opportunities for piglets to suckle, the higher their milk intake and subsequent liveweight gain during lactation (Newberry and Wood-Gush 1984). Studies of sows in communal farrowing systems revealed that suckling frequency decreased from week 2 of lactation onwards (Houwers, Buré and Koomans 1992; Boe 1993). The objective of this study was to investigate the effect of two different space allocations on the suckling frequency of group housed sows and on litter performance to day 17 of lactation.
Four groups of four multiparous sows were allocated to one of two pen areas, in a loose house farrowing system from 5 days before the expected farrowing date until the oldest litter was 21 days of age. The two pen areas provided 13.4m2 (L) and 8.6m2 (S) per sow respectively. A row of four farrowing enclosures, fitted with heated piglet creep areas and deeply bedded with straw, were provided, within an otherwise unbedded pen.