Development of piglets raised in a new multi-litter housing system vs. conventional single-litter housing until 9 weeks of age

Nieuwamerongen, S.E. van; Soede, N.M.; Peet-Schwering, C.M.C. van der; Kemp, B.; Bolhuis, J.E.


This study compared the development until 9 wk of age of piglets raised in either a multi-litter (ML) system or a conventional single-litter (SL) system. The ML system consisted of a multi-suckling system with 5 sows and their litters before weaning, followed by housing in a pen with enrichment in a group of 40 piglets after weaning. In the SL system, piglets were housed with a crated sow before weaning, followed by postweaning housing in groups of 10 littermates in a standard pen. Fifty litters were used in 5 batches and piglets were weaned at 4 wk of age. Preweaning mortality was higher in the ML system than in the SL system (3.22 ± 0.42 vs. 1.52 ± 0.25 piglets per litter, P <0.01), mainly due to crushing before grouping of litters. Litter size at grouping did not differ between systems. ML piglets showed more feed-directed behavior at 2 wk of age (6.80 ± 0.96 vs. 2.35 ± 0.59, P <0.01), suggesting an earlier start of feed exploration, possibly due to social learning from the floor-fed sows and other piglets. Moreover, before weaning, ML piglets showed less damaging oral manipulation (e.g., tail biting) than SL piglets (1.4 ± 0.2 vs. 3.6 ± 0.3 freq/h, P <0.001), which was likely related to the more enriched environment in the ML system. After weaning, ML piglets ate 81% more feed between d 1 and 2 (0.29 ± 0.02 vs. 0.16 ± 0.03 kg/piglet, P <0.01) and had an 82% higher weight gain until d 5 than SL piglets (1.35 ± 0.21 vs. 0.75 ± 0.17 kg, P <0.05) despite a similar weaning weight (ML: 8.4 ± 0.2 kg, SL: 8.3 ± 0.2 kg). Within the first 2 wk after weaning, ML piglets had a lower fecal consistency score (0.27 ± 0.03 vs. 0.39 ± 0.03, P <0.05), indicating a lower occurrence of diarrhea compared with SL piglets. Over the entire 5-wk postweaning phase, ML piglets had a 24% higher weight gain (P <0.05) and showed more play behavior (4.0 ± 0.3 vs. 2.8 ± 0.3 freq/h, P <0.05) and less damaging oral manipulation (1.8 ± 0.3 vs. 3.5 ± 0.4 freq/h, P <0.01) than SL piglets. These results are probably explained by a combination of the differences in preweaning development, early postweaning performance, and postweaning environment, with a larger and more diverse social group and more physical enrichment in the ML pen. To summarize, provided that preweaning mortality can be reduced, the ML system seems promising for raising robust piglets with better welfare, indicated by a better preweaning behavioral development, improved transition to the postweaning phase, and better postweaning performance.