Sows are strongly motivated to perform nestbuilding behaviour before parturition. This behaviour is often restricted in commercial systems due to confinement of the sow and lack of suitable nesting material to be used on slatted floors. This study aimed to investigate effects of loose vs. crated housing and the provision of alternative nesting material on periparturient sow behaviour and piglet survival. In a 2 × 2 arrangement, sixty-eight sows were assigned to either loose housing or crates and were either or not provided with nesting material consisting of jute sacks and straw balls. All sows had a rope. Postures and manipulation of materials and pen were observed using 5 min scan sampling for the 12 h before and the 24 h after parturition. Behaviour during parturition was scored continuously and included nose-nose contact between sow and piglets and crushing incidences. No interactions between treatments were found. In the 12 h prepartum, loose housed sows showed less sitting (5 vs. 9%) and ventral lying (29 vs. 38%) and more lateral lying (33 vs. 23%) and floor manipulation (10 vs. 5%) than crated sows. During parturition, loose housed sows spent less time sitting (2 vs. 6%), had fewer postural changes (34 vs. 50), showed less fence manipulation (0.1 vs. 2%) and had more nose contact with piglets (56 vs. 19 times). Provision of nesting material increased pre-partum lying (63 vs. 57%), increased manipulation of materials (14 vs. 8%) and reduced manipulation of floor (5 vs. 10%) and fence (5 vs. 9%). During parturition, sows with nesting material showed less standing (6 vs. 10%) and more lying (90 vs. 84%). No effects were found on behaviour in the 24 h after parturition or on parturition duration (3.3 ± 0.1 h). During parturition, the times lying down and the number of piglets that died by crushing tended to be lower with provision of nesting material (0.1 vs. 0.3). In the 48 h after parturition, loose housed sows crushed more piglets. In conclusion, both loose housing and the provision of alternative nesting materials affected prepartum sow behaviour and resulted in less activity during parturition, with some tendencies for beneficial effects on (near-) crushing of piglets during this period. Thus, both loose housing and the provision of alternative nesting materials, likely particularly the jute sacks, have a beneficial effect on periparturient sow behaviour.
- Loose housing