Evaluation of drop versus trickle-feeding systems for crated or group-penned gestating sows

L. E. Hulbert, J. J. McGlone

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36 Scopus citations


A total of 160 gilts were used to evaluate the effects of pen vs. crated housing systems and drop- vs. trickle-fed feeding systems on sow productivity, occurrence of lesions during farrowing and weaning, immune measures, and behavioral responses during 2 consecutive gestation periods. Of the 160 eligible gilts, 117 farrowed in parity 1, and of those, 72 farrowed in parity 2. The gilts were randomly assigned to represent 1 of 4 factorially arranged treatment groups: pen drop-fed, crate drop-fed, pen trickle-fed, or crate trickle-fed. Replicate blocks were used for each parity with 5 sows per block initially in each treatment. At weaning, sows housed in pens had greater (P < 0.05) backfat thickness than sows housed in crates. The piglet weaning weight was greater (P < 0.05) for sows fed with the single drop compared with the trickle-feeding system. Lesions scores and all other productivity measures did not differ among treatments. An interaction was observed for percentage of neutrophil phagocytosis (P < 0.05) between penning and feeding systems. In pens, drop-fed sows had greater phagocytosis than trickle-fed sows, but in crates, drop-fed sows had a tendency for lower phagocytosis than trickle-fed sows. All other immune measures were not different among treatments. The occurrence of oral-nasal-facial (ONF) behaviors (chewing, rooting, and rubbing) and active behaviors increased, and lying behavior decreased (P < 0.05), from 0800 to 1200 for all sows. During the 0800 to 1200 period, crate drop-fed sows displayed more (P < 0.05) ONF and active behaviors than did sows in the 3 other treatments. Sows housed in groups of 5 had a greater (P < 0.05) duration of standing in the 0400 to 0800 period compared with crated sows. Housing systems had complex effects on sow behavioral sequences, but penned sows had more sequences associated with stress than did crated sows. Also, crate drop-fed gilts and sows expressed more ONF behaviors than gilts and sows in other treatments. Generally, productivity, skin lesions, and immune measures were not different, but behaviors at certain times of day and behavioral sequences were different for sows in pens and crates with drop or trickle-feeding systems. None of the environments evaluated were associated with significant physiological stress responses among the sows. Thus, sows were able to adapt within each environment through behavioral mechanisms without the need to invoke major physiological adjustments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1004-1014
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2006


  • Alternative housing
  • Feeding system
  • Gestation
  • Sow


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