The sow is a social animal in her behavior throughout the reproductive cycle. An exception to her preference for being a part of a social group occurs one to two1–2 d days prior to farrowing, when she separates from her group and seeks for isolation in order to build up a nest. She then spends the first week or two with her piglets, mainly in the nest. After this short period of separation of 1–2 weeks, she brings her litter with her and rejoins the group. In modern intensive pig production, the sow is often restricted to an individual cage for lactation and, in many European countries, she may still spend additional periods in stalls during pregnancy. In the intensive production, isolation of the sow from the rest of the group is therefore a relatively long period of six to ten6-10 weeks, which creates a challenge for the social memory of the sow. While grouping of sows during lactation is an interesting option, until now this is encountered mostly in organic or otherwise extensive farming systems, such as outdoor farming. However, the present society is asking for more animal friendly models of production and there appears to be more need for studies of group housing issues during lactation. Grouping of sows after weaning causes stress, which imposes risks for fertility. Thus, timing of grouping is probably very critical. It is well documented that the embryonic period of the pregnancy, lasting up to Day 35, is more vulnerable for loss of pregnancy than the subsequent fetal period. There are indications that stress of grouping may cause some harm to vitality parameters of blastocysts already while at the site of fertilization in the oviduct. Later on, during the critical periods of maternal recognition of pregnancy, endocrinological models testing maintenance of pregnancy suggest that chronic stress lasting for more than two2 days may cause abortion and loss of the whole litter. However, the sow may be resistant, in terms of her reproductive function, to acute stress lasting for hours or up to a day. In conclusion, grouping of sows during lactation may be of interest in the future. At present, issues of group housed sows after weaning and early pregnancy seem to be of most practical relevance. Chronic stress of sows lasting for more than two2 days may lead to loss of the whole litter.
- 413 Veterinärvetenskap