By Emma Catharine Greenwood, William H. E. J. Van Wettere, Jessica Rayner, Paul E. Hughes and Kate J. Plush, 2019. Animals 2019, 9(1), 8;
When sows are mixed into groups, hierarchies form and resulting aggression and stress can affect production and welfare. This study determined the effect of providing point-source materials on aggressive and play behaviors in gestating sows. Large white cross Landrace sows were mixed after insemination; six pens of 12 sows were housed in ‘standard’ pens, and six pens of 12 sows were housed in ‘enhanced’ pens. The ‘enhanced’ pens each contained two rubber mats, eight strands of 24 mm-thick sisal rope and two yellow plastic disks, suspended from the roof. The sows remained in these pens until pregnancy confirmation. Salivary cortisol concentration, injury counts, and sow behaviors were recorded the day before mixing (day 1), mixing (day 0) and post-mixing day 1, day 4, day 7 and day 20. At farrowing, reproductive outcomes were obtained. Play was observed (including locomotor and object play) in the ‘enhanced’ pen, and percentage of time spent playing was greater on d4 (1.48 ± 0.3 Square root transformed data (2.84% non-transformed adjusted mean)), d7 (1.43 ± 0.3 (2.97%)) and d20 (1.64 ± 0.3 (3.84%)), compared to d0 (0.56 ± 0.3 (0.70%)) and d1 (0.87 ± 0.3 (1.67%) (p < 0.05)). No play was observed in standard housing. Aggression, salivary free cortisol concentrations and injuries were unaffected (p > 0.05). The provision of materials had no impact on aggression, although their presence maintained sow interest and play behavior, suggesting a positive effect.