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Effects of housing gilts
in gestation stalls or small groups on their behavior during gestation
M.J. Harris1, E.A. Pajor1, A.D. Sorrells1,2, S.D. Eicher2 and B.T. Richert1
1Purdue University, West Lafayette, USA; 21Livestock Behavior Research Unit – Agriculture Research Service, USDA West
The effects on behavior during gestation and around farrowing of housing gilts for one parity in individual stalls (n=14; 2.21 m x 0.61 m) or groups of four with individual feeding stalls (n=8; 3.9 m x 2.4 m) were evaluated. The two housing treatments were contained in a single room. Pregnant gilts were limit-fed once per day. Floors were fully slatted with no bedding. Observations of stereotypic oral/nasal/facial behaviors were made for 2 h after daily feed had been eaten, during wk 7-15 of pregnancy. During wks 4, 6, 8, 11 and 13 the use of stalls at feeding by grouped gilts was observed. Fights between group occupants were counted during a 24 h period at wks 2, 4, 6, 9 and 13. Gilts were transferred to farrowing crates 5 d before their expected date of parturition, and posture changes recorded for 24 h before the birth of the first piglet; during farrowing; and for 24 h after the birth of the last piglet. The duration of farrowing and inter-birth intervals were recorded.
On average, stall-housed gilts spent 80% of the 2 h after eating engaged in oral/nasal/facial behaviors, while grouped gilts spent 65%. During wks 7 (87.7% vs. 67.3%; p<0.01), 8 (78.4% vs. 59.7%; p<0.05) and 9 (83.0% vs. 57.3%; p<0.01), stall-housed gilts spent more time than group-housed gilts in the 2 h after eating performing oral/nasal/facial behaviors. Group occupants showed little consistency in choice of feeding stall, or stall entry order at feeding. Two fights were observed during wk 2 (1 wk after mixing), and one during wk 6. There were no differences in duration of farrowing, inter-birth intervals, or periparturient posture-changing behavior between gilts that had been housed in stalls or groups for gestation.
In summary, while grouped gilts displayed less stereotypic post-feeding behavior than those housed in gestation stalls, there were few other differences. Little fighting occurred among group members after the immediate post-mixing period. Housing gilts in groups of four does not appear to reduce their welfare compared to stalls, and may increase it, by providing more freedom of movement and reducing the exhibition of repetitive oral behaviors.
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