Van Kerschaver, C., Turpin, D., Michiels, J. et al. 2023. Reducing weaning stress in piglets by pre-weaning socialization and gradual separation from the sow: A review. Animals 13(10), 1644.

The weaning of pigs in most commercial pork production systems is an abrupt event performed at a fairly young age, i.e., mostly between 2.5 and 5 weeks of age. This practice induces a stress response, and its impact on behavior, performance and the gastrointestinal tract has been well described. Historically, there has been a focus on pre- and post-weaning nutritional strategies and post-weaning housing conditions and medication to improve production and reduce mortality after weaning. However, alternative pre-weaning housing and management systems that promote the development of natural social behaviors of piglets before weaning have recently received more attention. Co-mingling of non-littermates before weaning is a strategy that aims to initiate social interactions prior to weaning. The separation of the litter from the sow in the period leading up to weaning, termed intermittent suckling, aims to enhance the gradual separation from the sow. In addition, these practices encourage the young pig to learn explorative nutrient sourcing. Altogether, they may reduce weaning-associated stress. In this review, these strategies are defined, and their effects on behavior, performance, mortality, gastrointestinal function and immunocompetence are described. Though these strategies may be adapted to a commercial setting, it also becomes clear that many factors can contribute to the success of these strategies.

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