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Danish Pig Research Centre Annual Report 2012: Housing for Strong, Healthy Gilts

25 July 2013

Practical tips on introducing gilts to established groups of breeding sows so they become integrated with minimal risk of injury from the Danish Pig Research Centre.

What Makes a Strong and Healthy Sow?

Focus on young females and gilts is crucial to keep sow mortality rates low. Young females must be kept free of injuries to legs and hooves, and gilts must be introduced gently to the gestation unit. Young sows are over-represented among dead and culled sows proportional to their presence in their herd.

Young females gained experience in coping among larger, gestating sows, and benefited from this as mated gilts in the gestation unit

Socialisation of Gilts

Socialisation is the process where animals acquire social skills through interaction with older animals. The aim of a recent investigation was to socialise gilts to manage in a large group of gestating sows.

Socialised gilts that as young females were housed with older sows in groups generally started using the lying areas faster than gilts that had not been socialised.

This is an expression of faster integration in the group in the gestation unit. With socialisation, gilts get a gradual and gentler introduction to life in a large group of gestating sows.

Teaching pigs social skills should be a dedicated and planned task to the same extent as practical skills such as using an electronic feeding station.

Three gilt pens turned into one common pen by opening the gates towards the inspection alley. At their own rate, gilts were able to explore the new area and their new pen mates in the pens. The group was moved collectively to a larger pen after about one week.

Practical Experience

Pig Research Centre investigated different principles of socialisation on seven farms where gilts were housed in small pens (five to eight gilts per pen) in the quarantine facility. When the gilts were moved to the sow unit, gilts from several pens were mixed in a large pen where they were, for instance, trained in using electronic sow feeder stations (ESF). This type of mixing caused many confrontations between the gilts, which increases the risk of leg injuries in many gilts. Socialisation was intended to prepare the gilts for being part of a new, large group of gilts.

The gilts were given access to each other’s pens a few days before moving by opening the gates to the pens and thereby enabling the gilts to visit each other. This happened amicably, and gilts returned to their own pen, i.e. socialisation took place in familiar surroundings.

Having implemented these routines, very few farm owners witnessed aggressive behaviour between gilts during the subsequent mixing.

It was also tried to house a few sows together with gilts in gilt pens before service. This seemed to work in large ESF training pens, and gilts clearly gave way to the sows after the first few days’ confrontations.

It is essential that the pen is large and that the sows are suitable for the job, i.e. young, strong gestating sows that can handle confrontations with the gilts.

Straw boards made lying areas more attractive

Improving Gilt Pens

Non-skid floors are essential in preventing leg injuries among gilts. It is particularly important that faeces does not accumulate on the floor in pens where gilts are mixed and ranking takes place. Research shows that changing the layout of existing pens keeps non-skid floors clean.

Straw boards in the lying areas and additional sprinkling were introduced in two pens, each accommodating 30 to 50 gilts.

Results showed that this made zones more clearly defined, i.e. gilts used the lying areas as intended to a greater degree and tended to move away from the lying and feeding area when dunging.

July 2013

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