Lohmeier, R. Y., Gimberg-Henrici, C. G. E., Burfeind, O. et al. 2019. Suckling behaviour and health parameters of sows and piglets in free-farrowing pens. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 211, 25-32.
The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of free-farrowing pens and farrowing crates on the health parameters and the suckling behaviour of sows and their piglets, which were housed in farrowing crates (FC; n = 127) and in free-farrowing pens (FP; n = 121). All sows were evaluated regarding their body condition, locomotion, skin lesions of the udder and developmental stages of shoulder ulcers one week ante partum and four weeks post-partum. The piglets were scored concerning skin lesions of the face and of the carpus in week one of lactation and in week four of lactation. The FC sows had a higher incidence of locomotion problems and skin lesions of the udder four weeks post-partum (p < 0.05). In addition, piglets of the FC sows showed more skin lesions of the face and had more skin lesions of the carpus in week one of lactation and in week four of lactation, respectively (p < 0.05). For all piglets of both housing systems skin lesions of the face decreased during lactation, whereas skin lesions of the carpus increased (p < 0.05). With regard to the suckling behaviour, video observations of twenty-four sows (FP: n = 12; FC: n = 12) and their litters on lactation day four were analysed concerning the suckling duration, suckling frequency and suckling termination. For each housing system, six sows with litters with a low level of facial lesions and six sows with litters with a high level of facial lesions were chosen to investigate the influence of the suckling behaviour on the facial lesions of the piglets. The suckling duration per suckling bout was longer in the FP systems than in the FC systems (FP: 6.81 min vs. FC: 5.95 min; p < 0.05). Moreover, sows with litters with a low level of facial lesions terminated suckling less frequently (p < 0.05). In conclusion, keeping sows in free-farrowing pens can have a positive effect on the sows’ health by reducing the incidence of locomotion problems and skin lesions of the udder, as well as skin lesions of the face and skin lesions of the carpus of the piglets. Furthermore, the results show that the housing system has an influence on suckling duration and the incidence of skin lesions of the face of the piglets has an influence on sows’ terminations of suckling.