Fibre supply for breeding sows and its effects on social behaviour in group-housed sows and performance during lactation

Porcine Health Manag. 2020 Jun 5:6:15. doi: 10.1186/s40813-020-00153-3. eCollection 2020.


Background: Fibre sources as feed components with specific physical characteristics like a high swelling capacity (SC), viscosity and water-binding capacity (WBC) have been discussed to affect sow behaviour and to have long-term effects on lactational performance. The present studies aim to analyse the effects of different fibre sources in diets for sows on behaviour in gestation, reproductive performance as well as piglet development.

Methods: Twenty-eight feedingstuffs (four grain varieties, 16 by-products, three oilseeds and five leguminous plants) were compared concerning swelling capacity, viscosity and water binding capacity to select fibre sources with optimal physical characteristics. Following this a digestibility study was carried out with eight castrates for determining digestibilities of gross energy, crude protein, crude fibre, crude fat and crude ash. Additionally, a practical feeding experiment during gestation was performed with 96 sows of Danish genetics. Two supplements for sows with different fibre sources were composed, namely a control diet (based on wheat bran and lignocellulose) and a test diet containing sugar beet pulp, alfalfa, rapeseed meal, soybean hulls, grape pomace and lignocellulose. Six pens with eight sows each were video-monitored for 2 weeks (evaluation of interactions and fights). Furthermore, the animals were subjected to weekly scoring to count skin injuries. To check the fibre effect on reproductive performance and piglet development, the body condition development of the sows as well as the number and weight of live and stillborn piglets, litter weight- and weaning weight of the litters were recorded.

Results: Digestibility of crude fibre increased significantly in the experimental group (58.8% ± 3.3 vs. 49.0% ± 4.3, p = 0.01). At the sow trial, there was a tendency to observe less aggressive interactions and fewer fights in sows in the fibre group without significance. No significant differences could be measured between the two groups concerning performance parameters of sows and piglets.

Conclusion: Only changing the fibre source in a gestational diet does not have significant effects on the sows´ behaviour and performance of sows and piglets in lactation. It should be investigated how the amount of fibre can be increased without having any negatives effects on the performance so that the positive effects on the behaviour of the sows become more obvious.

Keywords: Animal welfare; Digestibility; Faecal consistency; Feeding; Litter size; Reproduction; Satiety; Swine.