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Journal of Animal Science





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Free-access stalls allow sows to choose the protection of a stall or use of a shared group space. This study investigated the effect of group space width, 0.91 (SS), 2.13 (IS), and 3.05 (LS) m, on the health, production, behavior, and welfare of gestating sows. Nine replications of 21 (N = 189) gestating sows were used. At gestational d 35.4 ± 2.3, the pregnant sows were distributed into 3 pens of 7 sows, where they remained until 104.6 ± 3.5 d. Each treatment pen had 7 free-access stalls and a group space that together provided 1.93 (SS), 2.68 (IS), or 3.24 (LS) m2/sow. Baseline measurements were obtained before mixing. Back fat depth, BW, BCS, and lameness were measured monthly, and skin lesions were scored weekly. Blood was collected monthly for hematological, immunological, and cortisol analyses. Sow behavior was video recorded continuously during the initial 4 d of treatment and 24 h every other week thereafter. Behavior was analyzed for location, posture, pen investigation, social contact, and aggression. Skin response to the mitogen concanavalin A (Con A) was tested at mean gestational d 106. Litter characteristics including size and weight were collected at birth and weaning. The data were analyzed using a mixed model. Multiple comparisons were adjusted with the Tukey-Kramer and Bejamini-Hochberg methods. Group space allowance had no effect on any measure of sow health, physiology, or production (P ≥ 0.10). Sows in the SS, IS, and LS pens spent 77.88% ± 3.88%, 66.02% ± 3.87%, and 63.64% ± 3.91%, respectively, of their time in the free-access stalls (P = 0.12). However, SS sows used the group space less than IS and LS sows (P = 0.01). Overall, pen investigatory behavior was not affected by group space allowance (P = 0.91). Sows in the LS pens spent more time in a social group than SS sows (P = 0.02), whereas sows in IS pens were intermediate to, but not different from, the other treatments (P ≥ 0.10). The size of the social groups was also affected by the group space allowance (P = 0.03), with SS sows forming smaller groups than LS sows; again, IS sows were intermediate to, but not different from, the other treatments. Although the group space allowance had no measurable impact on the health, physiology, or productivity of the sows, the lower group space use and social contact of the SS sows reduced the behavioral diversity benefits of group housing and may indicate an avoidance of social stressors or a lack of physical comfort in the smallest pens.


This article is from Journal of Animal Science 92 (2014): 2554, doi:10.2527/jas.2013-7352.


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