Effects of Environmental Enrichment and Loose Housing of Lactating Sows on Piglet Performance

Enrichment of the pre- and post-weaning environment improves performance and health of newly weaned pigs, according to researchers in the Netherlands.
calendar icon 31 December 2010
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Marije Oostindjer and colleagues at Wageningen University in the Netherlands published a paper in Journal of Animal Science, investigating the effects of loose housing of the sow during lactation and enrichment of the pen pre- and post-weaning on performance of newly weaned piglets.

Before weaning, piglets (n=320) were housed in an enriched (straw, wood shavings, peat and branches) or barren pen with a confined or loose-housed sow (n=32). Loose-housed sows and their piglets could eat together from a family feeder, whereas confined sows and piglets had separate feeding troughs.

Piglets (n=256) were mixed post-weaning and four piglets from each litter were relocated to a barren pen (n=32 pens) and four other piglets were housed in an enriched pen (n=32 pens).

Growth from day 15 until weaning was higher for piglets from enriched pens (4.38 ± 0.29 versus 4.71 ± 0.21 kg per pig; P<0.05) and tended to be higher for piglets with a loose-housed sow than piglets with a confined sow (4.41 ± 0.26 versus 4.67 ± 0.24 kg per pig; P=0.10).

Pre-weaning feed intake was not affected by pre-weaning conditions (P>0.25).

Piglets from enriched pre-weaning pens ate more in the first two days post-weaning than piglets from barren pens (first 48 hours: barren, 0.45 ± 0.05 kg per pig; enriched, 0.53 ± 0.04 kg per pig; P<0.05).

Piglets relocated to an enriched pen after weaning showed a higher growth in the two weeks after weaning (barren, 5.5 ± 0.2 kg per pig; enriched, 6.2 ± 0.2 kg per pig; P<0.0001), had a profoundly lower diarrhoea prevalence than piglets housed in barren pens after weaning (barren, 2.4 ± 0.4 days; enriched, 1.0 ± 0.3 days; P<0.0001) and had a higher feed efficiency (barren, 0.81 ± 0.03; enriched, 0.85 ± 0.02; P<0.05).

Oostindjer and co-authors concluded that enrichment of the pre-weaning environment likely stimulates development of feeding behaviour and consequently increases feed intake immediately after weaning. They added that providing piglets with an enriched environment after weaning positively affected post-weaning growth, feed efficiency and incidence of diarrhoea, which may be caused by decreased stress levels or increased gut health.

Enrichment of the pre- and post-weaning environment thus seems important in improving performance and health of newly weaned pigs, they added.


Oostindjer M., J.E. Bolhuis, M. Mendl, S. Held, W. Gerrits, H. van den Brand and B. Kemp. 2010. Effects of environmental enrichment and loose housing of lactating sows on piglet performance before and after weaning. J. Anim. Sci. doi.10.2527/jas.2010-2940

Further Reading

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