Bahnsen, I., Riddersholm, K. V., de Knegt, L. V. et al. 2021. The effect of different feeding systems on salivary cortisol levels during gestation in sows on herd level. Animals 11(4), 1074.
The aim of this study was to investigate herd cortisol levels as an indicator of stress during gestation in three different feeding systems. Twelve commercial Danish herds with 800 to 3050 sows were included, with either free-access feeding stall (Stall), floor feeding (Floor), or electronic sow feeding (ESF; n = 4 herds per system). Saliva samples were collected from 30 sows/herd in the gestation unit for cortisol analysis with an average of 67.2 gestation days for ESF, 72.4 days for Floor, and 68.6 days for Stall. Data on piglet birth weight (PBW) and the percentage of intrauterine growth restricted (IUGR) piglets from 452 litters (9652 piglets, 8677 liveborn) from all 12 herds were obtained on the saliva collection days. The cortisol levels in saliva increased throughout gestation (p < 0.01), and lower concentrations were observed among sows belonging to Stall (4.80 nmol/L), compared to Floor (7.03 nmol/L) and ESF (7.87 nmol/L), and that difference was significant as an independent effect in the case of ESF (p < 0.01). There was no difference between Floor and ESF or Stall and Floor (p > 0.05). An interaction was observed between parity and feeding system, with parities 4–5 in ESF herds having lower levels than other parities within the ESF system (p = 0.02).