Wider stall space affects behavior, lesion scores, and productivity of gestating sows

J. L. Salak-Johnson, A. E. De Decker, H. A. Levitin, B. M. McGarry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Limited space allowance within the standard gestation stall is an important welfare concern because it restricts the ability of the sow to make postural adjustments and hinders her ability to perform natural behaviors. Therefore, we evaluated the impacts of increasing stall space and/or providing sows the freedom to access a small pen area on sow well-being using multiple welfare metrics. A total of 96 primi-and multiparous crossbred sows were randomly assigned in groups of 4 sows/treatment across 8 replicates to 1 of 3 stall treatments (TRT): standard stall (CTL; dimensions: 61 by 216 cm), width-adjustable stall (flex stall [FLX]; dimensions: adjustable width of 56 to 79 cm by 216 cm), or an individual walk-in/ lock-in stall with access to a small communal openpen area at the rear of the stall (free-access stall [FAS]; dimensions: 69 by 226 cm). Lesion scores, behavior, and immune and productivity traits were measured at various gestational days throughout the study. Total lesion scores were greatest for sows in FAS and least for sows in FLX (P < 0.001). Higher-parity sows in FAS had the most severe lesion scores (TRT × parity, P < 0.0001) and scores were greatest at all gestational days (TRT × day, P < 0.05). Regardless of parity, sows in FLX had the least severe scores (P < 0.0001). As pregnancy progressed, lesion scores increased among sows in CTL (P < 0.05). Sow BW and backfat (BF) were greater for sows in FLX and FAS (P < 0.05), and BCS and BF were greater for parity 1 and 2 sows in FAS than the same parity sows in CTL (TRT × parity, P < 0.05). Duration and frequency of some postural behaviors and sham chew behavior were affected by TRT (P < 0.05) and time of day (TRT × day, P < 0.05). These data indicate that adequate stall space, especially late in gestation, may improve the wellbeing of higher-parity and heavier-bodied gestating sows as assessed by changes in postural behaviors, lesion severity scores, and other sow traits. Moreover, compromised welfare measures found among sows in various stall environments may be partly attributed to the specific constraints of each stall system such as restricted stall space in CTL, insufficient floor space in the open-pen area of the FAS system, and gate design of the FLX (e.g., direction of bars and feeder space). These results also indicate that parity and gestational day are additional factors that may exacerbate the effects of restricted stall space or insufficient pen space, further compromising sow well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5006-5017
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2015


  • Behavior
  • Lesion
  • Sow
  • Stall
  • Well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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