Under semi-natural environment, piglets leave their nest and familiarise with non-litter mates around 10 - 12 days after birth. CRA-W has studied the effects of pre-weaning socialisation of piglets.
To socialize piglets, the solid barriers between groups of three farrowing pens were removed. The piglets were thus able to move freely between the different farrowing pens. During the first four days after removing dividers, significantly more exploring behaviours were observed. Socialized piglets also rested less than non-socialized piglets. After the first four days, the socialized piglets showed more playful behaviour. Thanks to the social and physical enrichment of the environment, the socialisation is beneficial for the welfare of the piglets.
Mixing different litters also enables cross-sucking. This way, the piglets have a chance of finding a teat of another nursing sow. 9% of the socialized piglets found a teat belonging to another nursing mother for the rest of the lactation period. There was an average of 15% foreign piglets per sow during lactation. Lactating sows generally accepted unknown piglets well, and in 79% of cases the nursing were synchronised. This synchronisation is beneficial to sows and piglets because it reduces squealing and fighting for the sow’s teats, and therefore leads to less interruption of nursing. Early socialisation of piglets during lactation period also reduces stress and aggressive behaviour at weaning. Weaning is known to be a relatively stressful period for piglets. Socialized piglets at weaning have lesser social stress, making them more resistant to infection. The use of antibiotics can therefore be reduced. Post-weaning weight gain is also increased.
Mixing litters during pre-weaning period therefore improves the welfare of piglets and their future performance.
The CRA-W is continuing its research on the effect of socialisation in the early stages on post-weaning performance. Further information on the subject is available on the CRA-W website.