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Impact of social stress during gestation and environmental enrichment during lactation on the maternal behavior of sows

Ringgenberg, N., Bergeron, R., Meunier-Salaün, M.C., Devillers, N. (2012). Impact of social stress during gestation and environmental enrichment during lactation on the maternal behavior of sows, 136(2-4), 126-135.


The impact of a social stress in gestation and an enriched pen in lactation on components of sow maternal behavior was studied in a 2 × 2 factorial experiment. At breeding, 41 sows were assigned to a social mixing stress treatment (T) during mid-gestation or a control group (C). During lactation, half of the T and C sows were housed in straw enriched pens (E) (1.57 m × 4.10 m) and the others in standard farrowing crates (S) (0.68 m × 2.10 m). The mixing stress consisted in introducing each T sow to the home pen of two unfamiliar sows twice for 1 week, from d 39 to 45 and 59 to 65 of gestation. Aggressive behavior was observed and lesion scores were taken to confirm that a social stress occurred. During lactation, the responses of sows to a simulated piglet crush test on d 3 and an isolated piglet playback test on d 21 were observed. Postural budgets of sows were automatically detected using accelerometers on d 5 and 19 of lactation. Sow-initiated social contacts with the piglets were observed continuously from video recordings on d 6 and 20 of lactation. Data were analyzed with a mixed models procedure. The social stress treatment had an impact on the response of sows to isolated piglet vocalizations with T sows showing longer latencies to respond vocally than C sows (P=0.035). In early lactation, T sows spent more time lying ventrally than C sows (P=0.007). Furthermore, the social stress had an impact on the space use in the enriched housing, with T sows spending less time in the nesting straw area of the pen than C sows (P=0.018). Housing also impacted maternal behavior with E sows tending to spend more time lying ventrally than S sows in late lactation (P=0.067) and tending to have more social contacts with their piglets than S sows in early lactation (P=0.058). In conclusion, the social stress during gestation had a slight negative impact on sow maternal behavior, and while an enriched farrowing pen allowed for more opportunities to express maternal behavior, it did not counteract the negative effects of gestation stress. © 2012.

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