Effect of day of mixing gestating sows on measures of reproductive performance and animal welfare

R. Knox, J. Salak-Johnson, M. Hopgood, L. Greiner, J. Connor

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Effects of day of mixing sows after breeding were measured for reproduction and welfare on a commercial research farm. Sows (n = 1,436) were weaned into stalls for breeding, and groups of sows were assigned to 1) no mixing and housed in individual stalls (STL), 2) mixed on d 3 to 7 after breeding (D3), 3) mixed on d 13 to 17 after breeding (D14), or 4) mixed 35 d after breeding (D35). Mixed sows were moved into pens (n = 58 sows/pen) with an electronic sow feeding station and maintained as a static group. In the first 12 d after mixing or movement into STL (period 1), sows were assessed for lameness and lesions every 3 d and then every 2 wk until farrowing (period 2). Cortisol and fights were measured in period 1. Conception rates were reduced (P < 0.005) in D3 (87.1%) and D14 (89.2%) compared to D35 (92.2%) and STL (96.2%). Farrowing rates were lower (P < 0.0001) in D3 (82.8%) compared to D35 (90.5%) and STL (96.2%), but litter size was not (P ≥ 0.20) affected by mixing. The proportion of sows bred within 10 d of weaning was reduced (P < 0.05) for D14 compared to STL, but D3 and D35 did not differ among treatments. Number of fights 24 h after mixing was less (P < 0.0001) for D14 compared to D3 and D35 groups, and serum cortisol was greater (P < 0.05) for D35 compared to STL and D3. From period 1 to 2, lameness increased in D3 and decreased in D35 but did not change for D14 and STL (treatment × period, P < 0.05), whereas leg inflammation did not differ (P > 0.10) among treatments. Head and body lesion scores declined from period 1 to 2 in all mix groups, whereas vulva lesions increased in the D3 and D35 but did not change in D14 and STL (treatment × period, P < 0.0001). These results suggest STL can improve most measures of welfare compared to mixing in groups. However, when mixing sows, assessments for reproductive performance and welfare may change from gestation to farrowing. The poorest reproductive performance and welfare was observed when sows were mixed 3 to 7 d after breeding. There were few differences between the D14 and D35 treatments in reproduction or welfare, but D14-not D35-differed from STL in weaned sows rebred. Overall, results of this trial suggest that, even though any of the mixing days can result in acceptable measures of reproduction, there are clear effects of day of mixing on fertility and welfare, and special attention should be focused on the long-term reproductive and welfare consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1698-1707
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Fertility
  • Gestation stall
  • Grouping
  • Reproduction
  • Sow housing
  • Welfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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