Wageningen University & Research starts research to develop a novel, integrated, economically profitable multi-litter housing system for sows and piglets. Compared to conventional housing multi-litter systems show potential in reducing maladapted behaviours, such as tail biting, and therefore fits with future objectives such as abolishment of tail docking. The project is a collaboration between Wageningen University & Research, Agrifirm, Topigs Norsvin, Fancom, Exlan and the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
From economics to economics plus animal welfare
Conventional housing systems for sows and piglets have been designed for a long time to optimize economy of piglet production. Typical problems associated with such conventional farrowing systems are related to fixed and abrupt transitions between production stages, e.g. weaning. This project starts from a recently developed multi-litter housing system for sows and piglets, which accommodates natural behaviour and self-steered transitions between production stages. Apart from benefits related to self-steered-gradual weaning, this system shows potential in reducing maladapted behaviours (such as tail biting) compared to conventional housing, and therefore fits with future objectives such as abolishment of tail docking.
Mapping nutrient intake piglets
In such a group-based multi-litter system, piglets can ingest nutrients of various sources: e.g. sow’s milk, milk replacer and concentrates for sows or piglets. However, the observed variation in piglet body weight is large, likely related to variation in intake of each nutritional source, which is currently unknown. Understanding the nutritional choices of the piglets will be pivotal to reduce the large variation in piglet performance. In addition, large variation in the potential for body weight gain exists within a litter.
Genetic potential versus actual performance
Minimizing the gap between the genetic potential and the actual performance, as well as understanding the background, is crucial for further development of the system. In the project, various intervention strategies are foreseen to minimize this gap. For effectively designing such strategies, understanding sow and piglet behaviour, and their interactions with the environment is crucial. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a novel, integrated, economically profitable multi-litter housing system for sows and piglets.