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Research article2008Peer reviewed

Maternal behaviour and perfonnance in first-parity outdoor sows

Wallenbeck, A.; Rydhmer, L.; Thodberg, K.


When sows and their litters are kept outdoors, much of the responsibility for the litter is shifted from the herdsman to the sow compared to when the sows are kept indoors. Therefore, the maternal ability, including maternal behaviour, is believed to be important in outdoor piglet production. The aim of this study was to describe maternal traits in conventionally bred first-parity sows kept outdoors. Nursing behaviour, sow activity, sow body reserves, litter size and piglet growth were studied in 40 first-parity sows during a seven week long lactation. The sows were kept in groups outdoors. Sow activity (lying down or active) and nursing behaviour (nursing frequency, nursing duration and nursing terminator) were recorded on videotapes at four days postpartum (pp) and directly observed at four and six weeks pp. Cross suckling was observed at four and six weeks pp. Sows were weighed and measured for backfat depth five days before farrowing, two weeks pp and at weaning seven weeks pp. Piglets were weighed at four days pp, at two weeks pp and at weaning. We concluded that sow nursing behaviour and activity are individual characteristics repeatable within sows' late lactation. Less active sows are more available for suckling. Light and thin sows have an earlier and more progressed weaning process than heavier, fatter sows. A significant positive relation was found between sow appetite in early lactation and piglet growth until weaning. Sow nursing behaviour is not important for piglet growth when sows and piglets are held in groups, piglets have access to sow feed and piglets are weaned as late as at seven weeks of age. (c) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


behaviour; grouped sows; lactation; maternal ability; nursing; outdoor production

Published in

Livestock Science
2008, Volume: 116, number: 1-3, pages: 216-222