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Doctoral thesis, 2014

Strategic use of straw at farrowing

Westin, Rebecka


According to EU-regulations, sows should be provided with suitable manipulable material, this in order to meet their behavioural needs. "Strategic use of straw at farrowing" means that loose housed sows are provided with 15-20 kg of chopped straw once at 2 days prior to the calculated date of farrowing. This gives them increased access to nesting material and creates a more suitable environment with an improved micro-climate and increased comfort during farrowing and early lactation, compared to a limited use of straw. After farrowing, the straw is left to gradually drain through the slatted floor and is then replaced by a daily supply of 0.5–1 kg straw in accordance with common Swedish management routines. The overall aim of this thesis was to evaluate if strategic use of straw at farrowing is technically feasible and to investigate its effect on behaviour, health and production in farrowing sows and suckling piglets by studying the sow's nest-building behaviour and farrowing duration, the prevalence of bruising, piglet weight gain and pre-weaning mortality. Two studies were conducted in six conventional piglet-producing farms in South-West Sweden. Study I shows that it is technically possible to achieve an efficient throughput of straw and to maintain good pen hygiene in partly slatted farrowing pens for loose housed sows. However, straw chop lengths need to be adjusted to the type and design of the slatted pen floor. Study II shows that strategic use of straw made sows spend more time nest-building pre-partum and less time during the first hour after birth of the first piglet, compared to limited straw access. The sows also gave birth to fewer stillborn piglets. In piglets, strategic use of straw reduced the development of skin abrasions and soft heel/sole erosions. It also increased the average daily weight gain and mean body weight at weaning. Under the conditions studied, the overall pre-weaning mortality was not affected; however, the distribution of post-mortem findings differed, with fewer piglets dying due to starvation and more due to crushing. In summary, this thesis provides knowledge about housing around farrowing and its interaction with biological and behavioural mechanisms of importance for sow welfare and piglet survival and health.


pig housing; nest-building; farrowing sow; bruising; lameness; piglet mortality; loose housing; piglet weight gain; bedding material

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2014, number: 2014:69
ISBN: 978-91-576-8086-0, eISBN: 978-91-576-8087-7
Publisher: Department of Animal Environment and Health, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Environment and Health

UKÄ Subject classification

Clinical Science

URI (permanent link to this page)