The influence of environmental stimuli considered biologically relevant for nest building sows, on nursing and suckling behaviour and piglet growth was investigated. Effects of floor type (beach sand v. concrete) and substrate type (straw feeder v. no straw feeder) were examined in a 2 × 2 factorial experiment with nine replicates of four multiparous sows. The sows were kept individually in roofed 7·6 m2 ‘get-aw ay-pens’ from 1 week pre-partum until 13 to 15 days post-partum. The behaviour of sows and piglets were video recorded for 24 h on days 0, 3, 6 and 12 post-partum.
The latency from termination of farrowing until perceptible milk ejection tended to be shorter for experienced sows (parity 4 to 5) kept on sand than on concrete floors (1207 (s.e. 109) min; no. = 7 v. 1725 (s.e. 123) min; no. = 6, respectively; F2,8 = 3·93, P < 0·07) and for experienced sows with access to a straw feeder than without access to a straw feeder (1257 (s.e. 113) min; no. = 8 v. 1666 (s.e. 132) min; no. = 5, respectively; F2,8 = 3·56, P < 0·08). On days 3 and 6 a longer duration of suckling was found for sows on sand v. concrete floors (384 (s.e. 20) v. 327 (s.e. 16) s on day 3; F1,19 = 5·6, P < 0.03 and 377 (s.e. 14) v. 318 (s.e. 13) on day 6; F1,21 = 9·09; P < 0·01, respectively) and with straw feeder v. without straw feeder (385 (s.e. 20) v. 326 (s.e. 18) s on day 3; F1,19 = 5·11, P < 0.04 and 372 (s.e. 14) v. 323 (s.e. 13) on day 6; F1,21 = 6·21; P < 0·03, respectively). On day 3, a tendency for a sand × straw feeder interaction (F11,8 = 3·58, P < 0.08), showed that sows without environmental stimuli terminated more sucklings than sows with access to a straw feeder and sows kept on sand (32 (s.e. 7) %, 16 (s.e. 4) % and 13 (s.e. 5) %, respectively). Similarly, on day 6 a significant sand × straw feeder interaction (F316 = 7·15, P < 0·01) led to increased frequency of foreleg rowing for sows without environmental stimuli compared with the three other treatments (14 (s.e. 2) v. 7 (s.e. 1), 5 (s.e. 1) and 6 (s.e. 1) foreleg rowings per h, respectively). During the stay in the experimental pens, the growth rate of piglets kept on sand tended to be higher than for piglets kept on concrete floors (261 (s.e. 33) v. 240 (s.e. 30) g per piglet per day; F1,25 = 3·38; P < 0·08).
The results of the present experiment indicate that provision of biologically relevant stimuli affect the nursing and suckling behaviour of sows and piglets. The reduced termination of sucklings, the reduced frequency of foreleg rowing, the increased duration of suckling as well as the earlier development of suckling behaviour might have been advantageous for the early milk intake of the piglets.