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Research article2006Peer reviewed

Ovarian activity and oestrous signs among group-housed, lactating sows: Influence of behaviour, environment and production

Hulten F, Wallenbeck A, Rydhmer L


Animal welfare concerns require the development of housing systems that allow the animals to express their natural behaviour. One example of this is the group-housing system for lactating sows. The present study aimed at exploring ovarian activity in such a system. Thirty-eight sows farrowing individually outdoors during spring and summer, and indoors during autumn and winter, and group-housed in groups of four during weeks 3-7 of the lactation period, were monitored regarding reproductive functions, behaviour and production during their first to fourth lactation period. Average ovulation frequency during lactation was 47%. Only 50% of these ovulating cases were accompanied by a standing oestrus. Lactational ovulation frequency was higher in later parities (p < 0.001). Ovulation frequency was higher (p < 0.05) during winter (74%) and spring (69%), than during summer (10%) and autumn (23%). Occurrence of lactational ovulation was associated with some aspects of suckling behaviour and also with litter weight gain (p < 0.05). Forty-nine per cent of the lactational ovulations occurred during the seventh week of lactation. Timing of ovulation seemed positively (p = 0.08) associated with weight loss during lactation. Compared with the sows that were anoestrus during lactation, oestradiol-17 beta values were higher (p < 0.05) only in the week before occurrence of lactational ovulation. Weaning-to-oestrous interval was prolonged (p < 0.05) among the sows that ovulated during lactation. The present study identifies several factors influencing ovarian activity among group-housed sows, thereby providing tools for the control of lactational ovulation in group-housing systems

Published in

Reproduction in Domestic Animals
2006, Volume: 41, number: 5, pages: 448-454