Intermittent suckling during an extended lactation period: Effects on piglet behavior

M. Berkeveld, P. Langendijk, J.E. Bolhuis, A.P. Koets, J.H.M. Verheijden, M.A.M. Taverne

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17 Citations (Scopus)


The objectives of the current study were to determine how intermittent suckling (IS) affects nursing behavior, litter activity, and general behavioral patterns during lactation, and whether IS during an extended lactation period results in behavioral patterns associated with piglet distress. Intermittent suckling was applied either with 6-h separation intervals (IS6) or with 12-h separation intervals (IS12) and was compared with the conventional treatment (CT). In the CT (n = 17 litters), sows were continuously present until weaning (d 21, d 0 = farrowing). In both IS6 and IS12, sows were separated from their litter for 12 h/d, beginning at d 14 and lasting until weaning (d 43 +/- 1 d). In IS6, litters (n = 14) and sows were separated from 0800 to 1400 and from 2000 to 0200; in IS12 litters (n = 14) and sows were separated between 0800 and 2000. In IS litters, the activity pattern over the 24-h cycle was markedly changed by IS; litter activity was lower (P <0.001) during sow absence and greater (P <0.001) during sow presence compared with the unweaned CT litters. Moreover, both total nursing frequency (P <0.00 1) and the percentage (P <0.002) of successful nursings were reduced by IS. Although total nursing frequency was greater in IS6 compared with IS12 (on d 21 and 28), no differences in the frequency of successful nursings existed between IS6 and IS12 from d 14 onward. Eating behavior was increased shortly after the onset of IS (d 17) in both IS6 (P = 0.059) and IS12 (P <0.001) compared with the unweaned CT litters. The IS12 litters showed more eating behavior compared with IS6 and their exploratory behavior increased in time (P <0.001), whereas IS6 showed more nursing behavior. Aggressive or manipulative behavior of both IS treatments was similar compared with the unweaned CT, and remained relatively unaltered with time in IS12 and IS6. Weaning in the CT resulted in more manipulative (P <0.001) and aggressive (P = 0.004) behavior compared with pre-weaning values. Intermittent suckling may contribute to adaptation to the postweaning state by stimulating eating behavior, without causing obvious behavioral distress.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3415-3424
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • ranging domestic pigs
  • post-weaning behavior
  • maternal-behavior
  • housing conditions
  • nursing frequency
  • milk-production
  • sows
  • growth
  • performance
  • litters

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