PhD: Nest building behaviour increases the welfare of both sows and their piglets

It is well-known that prepartum sows have a strong instinct to build a nest before parturition. Under commercial conditions, however, the farrowing crate, widely used in modern pig husbandry, restricts this innate behaviour due to the lack of space, materials or both. MSc Jinhuyeon Yun found that sow nest-building behaviour could be enhanced by the provision of nesting materials. This resulted an improved sow metabolic status and maternal characteristics, successful piglet colostrum intake and maternal carefulness behaviour. All this may lead to increased piglet survival and growth

Restriction of nest-building  behaviour could generate an increase in physiological stress, resulting in a decrease in endogenous hormones, especially oxytocin, which is recognized for its effect on reproductive and behavioural characteristics in mammals, and modulation of maternal behaviour, parturition, and lactation in wide range of mammals. Oxutocin is also  related to the stress reaction, that it reduces anxiety and that it plays a part in emotional reactions in social situations. This study evaluated the effects of provision of space and abundant nesting materials on actual nest-building behaviour and circulating oxytocin concentrations in prepartum sows. In addition, it also investigated whether facilitating prepartum nest-building behaviour could improve postpartum maternal characteristics during early lactation, possibly because of elevated oxytocin concentrations in sows.

 It appears that nest-building behaviour in prepartum sows could be enhanced by the provision of nesting materials and increase oxytocin concentration. This resulted in improved sow metabolic status, successful colostrum intake measured via neonatal piglet serum IgG and IgM concentrations, and maternal carefulness behaviour during early lactation. This may have potential to increase piglet survival and growth performance during lactation.

Doctoral Dissertation: Importance of maternal behaviour and circulating oxytocin for successful lactation in sows : Effects of prepartum housing environment is is publicly available here: