The Effect of Mats on the Welfare of Sows and Piglets in the Farrowing House
The objective of this study was to assess the effect of providing mats in the farrowing pen on behaviour and lesions in sows (n = 38) and piglets. Nineteen of the sows and their litters housed in farrowing crates with metal slatted floors were provided with mats, the remaining 19 acting
as controls. Sow skin was inspected pre-farrowing and at weaning: the skin and feet of piglets were examined when they were 6 days old. Skin lesions were scored (on a scale of 0 to 6) according to severity. Total lesion scores per sow and median total lesion scores per litter were calculated.
Sow behaviour was recorded by direct observation at feeding. Usage of a heat pad for lying in the presence or absence of mats was assessed over a 2hr observation period. Median skin lesion scores of sows did not differ between treatments. Litters from the control treatment had lower skin lesion
scores (median [range] 8 [2–12] vs 10 [5–21]; P < 0.05). Median lesion scores of the front legs tended to be higher for piglets on mats (median [range] 8 [1.5–13] vs 4 [1.5–8]; ns). Sows on metal flooring went from kneeling to lowering their
hindquarters faster (median [range] 15 [2–45] s) than sows on mats (23 [11–54] s) (P < 0.05). Furthermore, they slipped more on their front (median [rangeJ 2.7 [0–8.7] vs 0 [0–1.3] slips min−1; P < 0.001) and hind (median
[range] 5.3 [0.3–31.7] vs 1.9 [0–33.3] slips min−1; P < 0.05) feet while standing, than sows on mats. More piglets lay on the heat pad when it was covered by a mat (mean ± SEM 45.97 ± 4.49 %) than when no mat was provided (29.29 ±
4.47 %) (P < 0.05). Mats improve sow comfort and reduce slipping. They encourage piglets to lie on the heat pad but cause damage to the skin of the front legs. Providing pigs with mats in the farrowing house could greatly improve welfare on slatted floors, but further research is
needed to identify materials that are less abrasive.