Effects of environmental enrichment and loose housing of lactating sows on piglet performance before and after weaning

M. Oostindjer, J.E. Bolhuis, M. Mendl, S. Held, W.J.J. Gerrits, H. van den Brand, B. Kemp

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We investigated effects of loose housing of the sow during lactation and enrichment of the pen pre- and postweaning on performance of newly weaned piglets. Before weaning, piglets (n = 320) were housed in an enriched (straw, wood shavings, peat and branches) or barren pen with a confined or loose-housed sow (n = 32). Loose-housed sows and their piglets could eat together from a family feeder, whereas confined sows and piglets had separate feeding troughs. Piglets (n = 256) were mixed postweaning and 4 piglets from each litter were relocated to a barren pen (n = 32 pens) and 4 other piglets were housed in an enriched pen (n = 32 pens). Growth from d 15 until weaning was higher for piglets from enriched pens (4.38 ± 0.29 versus 4.71 ± 0.21 kg/pig, P <0.05) and tended to be higher for piglets with a loose-housed sow compared to piglets with a confined sow (4.41 ± 0.26 versus 4.67 ± 0.24 kg/pig, P = 0.10). Preweaning feed intake was not affected by preweaning conditions (P > 0.25). Piglets from enriched preweaning pens ate more in the first 2 d postweaning than piglets from barren pens (first 48 h, barren 0.45 ± 0.05 kg/pig, enriched 0.53 ± 0.04 kg/pig, P <0.05). Piglets relocated to an enriched pen after weaning showed a higher growth in the 2 wk after weaning (barren 5.5 ± 0.2 kg/pig, enriched 6.2 ± 0.2 kg/pig, P <0.0001), had a profoundly lower diarrhea prevalence than piglets housed in barren pens after weaning (barren 2.4 ± 0.4 d, enriched 1.0 ± 0.3 d, P <0.0001), and had a higher feed efficiency (barren 0.81 ± 0.03, enriched 0.85 ± 0.02, P <0.05). Enrichment of the preweaning environment likely stimulates development of feeding behaviors and consequently increases feed intake immediately after weaning. Providing piglets with an enriched environment after weaning positively affected postweaning growth, feed efficiency, and incidence of diarrhea, which may be caused by decreased stress levels or increased gut health. Enrichment of the pre- and postweaning environment thus seems important in improving performance and health of newly weaned pigs
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3554-3562
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • growing pigs
  • gastrointestinal-tract
  • rearing environment
  • space allowance
  • small-intestine
  • behavior
  • growth
  • straw
  • stress
  • inflammation

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