Scientific Abstract

Piglet mortality during the lactation period is a concern for swine production and is a consequence of a set of complex interactions between sow, piglet, environmental, and management factors. While crushing by the sow may be the ultimate cause of piglet mortality, there are many factors influencing the outcome, including parity, thermal stress, and animal housing systems. New farrowing systems are continuously being developed; however, it is difficult for producers to make decisions without any basis.  Evaluating the sow and piglet behaviors and piglet performance traits can contribute to the adoption of more efficient management and systems.  Thus, the main objective of this study was to evaluate the impact of different farrowing crate designs on the piglet performance traits and animal behavior. A total of 546 sows and 9123 piglets were monitored during 36 lactation cycles. The sows were a randomly assigned to three types of farrowing crate designs (standard, diagonal, and offset) in three rooms (20 sows by room). All farrowing crates had the same space allocations (2.7 m W by 1.8 m L – and 2.13 m W by 0.61 m L for the sow area).  The three types of farrowing crates were blocked by the positioning within the room.  Piglet performance traits (percent of stillborns, percent of mortality, percent of overlays, and average daily weight gain (ADG) and sows (health and parity) were monitored according to the standard operating procedures of the US Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC). For the behavioral evaluations, 9 sows and their litter were monitored. The behavior was captured in three different 5-week periods, three sows each period. Video and time-lapse images were captured throughout the 5 week-lactation, using two different systems: time-lapse cameras and a security camera system. The results indicated effects of treatment, parity, and season on some piglet performance traits. When evaluating the general data, the offset treatment presented a lower percentage of stillborns than the standard one. Parity 1 sows presented lower ADG than parities 2, 3, and 4 sows. Autumn and Summer presented higher percent of overlays values than Spring and Winter, and Summer presented higher ADG values than the other seasons. When the high mortality sows (>2 piglets lost) were evaluated, the offset treatment had a lower percent of overlays than the standard treatment. No differences were found in the performance traits between the diagonal crate and the other treatments. In relation to the animal behavior, sows housed in the standard crate spent more time lying down compared to sows housed in the other farrowing crates and spent more time eating than sows in the offset treatment. No differences were found in the water consumption of the sows between the studied crates. Piglets were more active in the offset farrowing crate compared to the standard one according to the average time spent in this activity. Sows were found to be more active at pre-farrowing suggesting restlessness and least active at early post-farrowing and 1-week post-farrowing. Differences between two days before, two days after, and nine days after farrowing were found in the amount of time lying left and right, lying other, sitting, standing, eating, and drinking. There were no differences in piglets resting, but there were higher occurrences in piglets active and nursing nine days after farrowing compared to two days after farrowing. The study findings suggest that implementing farrowing crate systems where sows are kept at a greater distance from the heating source can serve as an alternative to traditional farrowing crate. This approach has the potential to reduce the percent of overlays in sows with mortalities above two piglets. In addition, the influence of the season on the piglet production traits demonstrated the importance of proper management of the environment, even in systems with a certain level of temperature control. A complete behavior analysis and evaluation of the mothering ability of sows is ongoing. The data collected during these studies will continue to provide insights into sow and piglets wellbeing and performance well beyond the stated objectives of the original study.