Coping with large litters: management effects on welfare and nursing capacity of the sow
Received: Jan 20, 2021; Revised: Feb 08, 2021; Accepted: Feb 08, 2021
Published Online: Mar 04, 2021
A number of management issues can be used as drivers for change in order to improve animal welfare and nursing capacity of the hyper prolific sow. Group housing of sows during gestation is a recommended practice from the perspective of animal welfare. Related health issues include reproductive health and the locomotor system. It appears that management of pregnant sows in groups is challenging for a producer and considerable skill is required. We explored the benefits and challenges of group housing, including feeding issues. Increasing litter size requires additional attention to the mammary gland and its ability to provide sufficient nursing for the growing litter. We discuss the fundamentals of mammary development and the specific challenges related to the hyperprolific sow. We also address challenges with the farrowing environment. It appears that the old-fashioned farrowing crate is not only outdated in terms of welfare from the public’s perspective, but also fails to provide the environment that the sow needs to support her physiology of farrowing, nursing, and maternal behaviour. Studies from our group and others indicate that providing the sow with a loose housing system adequate in space and nesting material, along with reasonable chance for isolation, can be considered as fundamental for successful farrowing of the hyperprolific sow. It has also been shown that management strategies, such as split suckling and cross fostering, are necessary to ensure proper colostrum intake for all piglets born alive in a large litter. We thus conclude that welfare and nursing capacity of the sow can be improved by management. However, current megatrends such as the climate change may change sow management and force the industry to rethink goals of breeding and, for instance, breeding for better resilience may need to be included as goals for the future.