Early weaned piglets often develop belly-nosing and sucking or chewing on the navels or ears of other pigs. This behavior is considered a problem because recipient pigs can develop lesions, and those piglets that perform the behavior grow more slowly. However, it has not yet been determined whether belly-nosing is related to sucking motivation or subsequent post-weaning feeding and drinking motivation. Through the examination of factors that are involved in pre-weaning sucking behavior and post-weaning feeding and drinking, the motivating factors involved in belly-nosing can be determined. Knowledge of these factors will help us to determine the significance of this behavior in terms of animal welfare, and to develop housing and management systems that promote piglet well-being.
The main finding of this project was that style of drinker can have a significant effect on the behavior of the newly weaned piglet. During the first 48 hours post-weaning, piglets with bowls spent less time at the drinker, more time at the feeder and ate more than piglets with nipple drinkers. They also performed significantly less belly nosing over the nursery period suggesting that the motor patterns involved with drinking water from bowl drinkers somehow satisfied their sucking or nosing motivation. Until these factors are studied more thoroughly, alternative drinkers may be used to help decrease early-weaned piglet belly-nosing.