Shortening sow restraint period during lactation improves production and decreases hair cortisol concentrations in sows and their piglets

L. Morgan, J. Meyer, S. Novak, A. Younis, W. A. Ahmad, T. Raz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Food animal welfare is an issue of great concern, as society has a responsibility for animals under human care. Pork is the most consumed meat worldwide, with more than a billion pigs being slaughtered globally every year. Still, in most countries, sows are restrained in farrowing crates throughout lactation. In these crates, sows are confined with bars to an area that is just slightly larger than their body. Thus, moving and turning around, grooming, or expressing other natural behaviors are typically impossible. In this study, we utilized a simple and practical modification of conventional farrowing crates to designed farrowing pens, by removable confinement bars, which provide the flexibility to change the housing system from one to another. Our objective was to examine the parameters of production and hair cortisol concentrations after different restraint periods during lactation. Analyses included data from 77 sows and their 997 piglets. Sows were housed in farrowing crates, but the confinement bars were removed after different periods, from 3 days post-farrowing to full restraint. For certain analyses, sows were grouped into Short or Long Restraint groups (3–10 days vs 13–24 days, respectively). Multiple linear regression revealed that for any additional day in restraint of the sows, piglets' weaning rate decreases by 0.4% (P < 0.05). Moreover, the total number of weaned piglets per litter was higher in the Short Restraint group as compared to the Long Restraint group (10.4 ± 0.3 vs 9.7 ± 0.3, respectively; P < 0.05). Accordingly, total litter weight on the weaning day tended to be higher in the Short Restraint group (68.8 ± 2.2 vs 64.9 ± 1.8 kg; P = 0.1210). The requirement for medical treatments during lactation (e.g., antibiotics, NSAID) tended to be less frequent in the Short Restraint group (Sows: 21.9% vs 40%; P = 0.1219. Piglets: 2.4% vs 17.1%; P = 0.0609). Hair cortisol as a marker for chronic stress during lactation decreased when the restraint period was shortened in both sows and piglets. Our analysis revealed that sows' hair cortisol is a significant mediator between the restraint of the sow and its piglets' hair cortisol (Sobel test; P < 0.05). For every day of sows' restraint, sows' hair cortisol increased by 0.5 pg/mg, and for any additional unit of sows' hair cortisol, piglets' hair cortisol increased by 0.36 pg/mg. In conclusion, sustainable swine farming management can be beneficial for both animals and farmers; limiting sow restraint during lactation is expected to reduce stress, enhance welfare and production, and potentially improve the economics of swine operations.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number100082
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021

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  • Chronic stress
  • Designed pens
  • Farrowing crates
  • Hair cortisol
  • Pig welfare


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