The effect of parity and environmental restriction on behavioural and physiological responses of pre-parturient pigs

S Jarvis*, BJ Van der Vegt, AB Lawrence, KA McLean, LA Deans, J Chirnside, SK Calvert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is increasing evidence that restriction of pre-parturient behaviour in pigs is stress-inducing, characterised by an elevation in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity in gilts. To determine whether pigs adapt to behavioural restriction, through modification of nest-building behaviour, we studied pre-parturient pigs in either farrowing crates (no bedding, n = 7) or straw-bedded pens (n = 7) in their first (gilts) and second (sows) parity. with physiological measurements being taken in the second parity. Observations and blood sampling were carried out during the preparturient phase. Crated pigs changed posture more often than penned pigs (F-1,F-12 = 7.06, P <0.05), with the number of posture changes reducing across parities in both environments. The reduction in posture changing was more apparent in the crated sows which may indicate that attempted nest-building behaviour of sows with prior experience of farrowing crates is less fragmented. The crated pigs spent a greater proportion of time sitting across both parities (F-1,F-12 = 9.4, P <0.01), and spent less time manipulating available substrates (F-1,F-12 = 10.67, P <0.05). There was a tendency for penned pigs to spend a greater proportion of time standing (F-1,F-12 = 3.77, P = 0.076) with peak nesting behaviour occurring earlier in relation to parturition than in crated pigs. In addition penned sows performed more floor-directed behaviour than penned gilts, and at an earlier stage in relation to parturition. However, crated sows also performed peak nest-building earlier than crated gilts. Plasma cortisol profiles indicated elevated HPA activity in crated sows during the pre-parturient period (F-42,F-303 = 1.43, P <0.05) suggesting increased physiological stress, however, the difference between crated and penned sows was less than that previously seen in gilts. The increased range of pre-parturient behaviours seen in the penned sows suggests that experience may result in an 'improvement' in their nest-building behaviour: earlier preparation of the nest site and then subsequent manipulation of substrates. The crated sows appeared to show some behavioural adaptation to the crate environment; earlier peak in floor directed behaviour and total substrate directed behaviour, reduced posture changing. In conclusion the nest-building behaviour of pigs is modified over parities with adaptation to the behavioural restrictions imposed by the farrowing crate. However, this adaptation, through prior experience, does not completely reduce the elevation in HPA activity previously reported in pre-parturient crated gilts. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-216
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2001


  • pig-reproduction
  • parity
  • periparturient behaviour
  • environmental restriction
  • nest-building
  • cortisol


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