Behavioural observations of sows and piglets in a free farrowing pen with a focus on the piglet nest
Piglet losses in the early suckling period, in particular due to crushing by the sow, must be kept as low as possible. A prolonged stay in the piglet nest can improve the probability of piglet survival because there is a reduced risk of hypothermia and crushing or kicking by the sow. Different piglet nest designs and management strategies will be compared to find the condi-tions under which piglets are most likely to be in the nest: electric lid heating vs. underfloor heating, with vs. without LED-light, and with vs. without confinement in the piglet nest during the first feeding times of the sow after farrowing, resulting in eight combinations of treatments. To evaluate the whereabouts and behaviour of the animals, video cameras in the piglet nest, the pen and the outdoor run will record the first 72 hours after farrowing. The videos of about 160 farrowings will be evaluated using a scan sampling method with an interval of ten minutes. In addition, animal performance, medical treatments and animal losses, the temperature in the piglet nest, the stable and outdoors, as well as economic indicators like energy consumption of the heating systems and labour input for confinement of the piglets will be collected. The experiments are currently ongoing and will help to find possible differences in behaviour, growth or losses of piglets due to the different measures and to increase the use of the piglet nest.