Researchers in Germany analysed behavioural parameters of sows and piglets in two different farrowing systems. Data of 132 crossbred-sows were collected. Conventional single housing with farrowing crates (SH) was compared to a group housing system (GH) with six single pens, electronically controlled gates (ear tag) and a shared running area. GH-sows were fixed in their crates from day 3 ante partum (a.p.) until day 1 post partum (p.p.). The piglets remained in the pens until lactation day 5 (flexible step) and were weaned on lactation day 26.
The behaviour of the sows and piglets was recorded in videotape. Under investigation were the parameters ‘farrowing duration between each piglet’, ‘the number and duration of sucklings’, ‘missing and foreign piglets during suckling (only GH)’, ‘the duration and frequency of the sows’ activities (lying, sitting, standing, walking)’ and ‘the number of GH-piglets in the running area (suckling, resting, walking)’. The farrowing duration was not different for the piglets in GH (11 min) and SH (10 min; p > 0.05). Likewise, the suckling duration was equal with 17 min/observation unit in GH and SH, respectively (p > 0.05).
The frequency of suckling did not vary significantly (GH: 3.9 vs SH: 3.6/time period of three hours). However, the suckling behaviour of the GH-piglets changed during nursing. Fewer than one GH-piglet was missing during milk flow, while this proportion rose during udder massages before and after milk flow (p < 0.05). The number of foreign piglets was not influenced by the udder massages or milk flow phases (0.3–0.4 piglets/30 s scan; p > 0.05). Furthermore, suckling in the running area resulted in higher numbers of missing and foreign piglets (p < 0.05). With reference to the activity behaviour, the farrowing system had no effect on the sows’ periods of lying, sitting and standing (p > 0.05). The sows’ time in the GH-pens decreased from lactation day 5 (20.6 h/d) until it reached a nearly constant level on lactation day 11 (11.6 h/d; p < 0.05). GH-piglets used the running area primarily for walking and playing while they preferred the heated piglet nests for resting. In conclusion, suckling frequency and duration were similar in both farrowing systems whereas suckling in GH resulted in enhanced disturbances during udder massages. GH-sows remained in the crates with their piglets during the first five days p.p. and the running area was used for defecating.