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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 51(5)

Effects of stall dimensions on the welfare of pregnant sows

J. L. Barnett A E, P. H. Hemsworth A B F, K. L. Butler C, B. N. Schirmer A, S. S. Borg A and G. M. Cronin A D

A Animal Welfare Science Centre, Department of Primary Industries, 600 Sneydes Road, Werribee, Vic. 3030, Australia.
B Animal Welfare Science Centre, University of Melbourne, Faculty of Land and Food Resources, Parkville, Vic. 3010, Australia.
C Biometrics Unit, Department of Primary Industries, 600 Sneydes Road, Werribee, Vic. 3030, Australia.
D Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, 425 Werombi Road, Camden, NSW 2570, Australia.
E Tribute to Associate Professor John Lawrence Barnett BSc (Zoology), PhD – John’s area of scientific expertise was stress physiology and its application to the study of domestic animal welfare. Over 30 years, his research provided a timely balance on discussions within science on the scientific assessment of animal welfare and its interpretations. Sadly, John lost his life, together with his wife Jenny, in the 7 February 2009 bushfires in Victoria.
F Corresponding author. Email: phh@unimelb.edu.au

Animal Production Science 51(5) 471-480 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/EA07124
Submitted: 3 May 2007  Accepted: 10 February 2011   Published: 5 May 2011

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The welfare of sows in gestation accommodation, and in particular the use of gestation stalls, is a major issue of concern among the animal-welfare community and pig producers. The objective of the present experiment was to investigate the effects of width (0.6 m v. 0.75 m) and length (2.0 m v. 2.2 m v. 2.4 m) of gestation stalls, plus a tether-stall negative-control treatment, on sow welfare measured via parameters of behaviour, stress physiology, immunology and gait score. The research involved 56 multiparous sows, housed alongside 56 non-experimental sows that were included to facilitate measurement of social behaviour. Posture and social behaviour were recorded after 7 weeks in treatment and animals were surgically catheterised in Week 8 for blood sampling, to measure daytime profiles of cortisol concentrations and responses to an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) challenge. The cell-mediated immune response to a bean extract was examined in Week 9. Sows spent more time standing during 2 h in the morning in 0.75-m- than 0.6-m-wide stalls (P < 0.05). This effect was greatest in 2.0-m-long stalls. Although the angle of head turn by sows was greater in 0.75-m- than 0.6-m-wide stalls (P < 0.001), social interactions were unaffected by stall dimensions. Sows in 0.6-m-wide stalls had lower total (P < 0.01) and free (P < 0.001) cortisol concentrations, reduced responsiveness to ACTH (P < 0.05) and increased immunoresponsiveness (P < 0.05) than did the sows housed in 0.75-m-wide stalls. There was no effect of stall length on total cortisol concentrations; however, free cortisol concentrations were greater in 2.4-m than in both 2.0- and 2.2-m treatments (P < 0.05). Sows in 2.2-m-long stalls showed significantly lower responsiveness to ACTH (P < 0.01), and greater immunoresponsiveness (P < 0.05) than did the sows in 2.0- and 2.4-m-long stalls. There were no interactions between stall width and length. The results indicated lower stress responses in both 0.6-m-wide and to some extent in 2.2-m-long stalls. Although these effects are not intuitively obvious, it is suggested that within the stall dimensions studied, 0.6 m × 2.2 m stalls will minimise stress effects. The opportunity was taken in the present experiment to test the scientific validity of these welfare measures by examining how well the measures predict the welfare status of the animal. Tethers and stalls are expected to provide variation in the welfare status of sows due to variation in the level of restriction and it was found that for four of the six biological variables (basal free and total cortisol concentrations, cortisol response following ACTH injection and deteriorated gait), expected differences were detected for sows housed in stalls (0.6-m width, 2.0-m length) and tethers.

Additional keywords:behaviour, gestation, housing, pig, stress.


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