Liu, X., Song, P., Yan, H. et al. 2021. Comparison of the behavior, physiology, and offspring resilience of gestating sows when raised in a group housing system and individual stalls. Animals 11(7), 2076.
Being in a confined environment causes chronic stress in gestating sows, which is detrimental for sow health, welfare and, consequently, offspring physiology. This study assessed the health and welfare of gestating sows housed in a group housing system compared to individual gestation stalls. After pregnancy was confirmed, experimental sows were divided randomly into two groups: the group housing system (GS), with the electronic sow feeding (ESF) system; or individual stall (IS). The behavior of sows housed in the GS or IS was then compared; throughout pregnancy, GS sows displayed more exploratory behavior, less vacuum chewing, and less sitting behavior (p < 0.05). IS sows showed higher stress hormone levels than GS sows. In particular, at 41 days of gestation, the concentration of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and adrenaline (A) in IS sows was significantly higher than that of GS sows, and the A level of IS sows remained significantly higher at 71 days of gestation (p < 0.01). The lipopolysaccharide (LPS) test was carried out in the weaned piglets of the studied sows. Compared with the offspring of gestating sows housed in GS (PG) or IS (PS), PG experienced a shorter period of high temperature and showed a quicker return to the normal state (p < 0.05). Additionally, their lower levels of stress hormone (p < 0.01) suggest that PG did not suffer from as much stress as PS. These findings suggested that gestating sows housed in GS were more able to carry out their natural behaviors and, therefore, had lower levels of stress and improved welfare. In addition, PG also showed better disease resistance and resilience. These results will provide a research basis for the welfare and breeding of gestating sows.