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The effect of feeding a high fibre diet on the welfare of sows housed in large dynamic groups

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This study assessed the effect of increasing fibre levels in the concentrate ration on the welfare of sows housed in a large dynamic group. One hundred and twelve Large White × Landrace sows were allocated to one of two treatments over six replicates. Treatments were as follows: (i) High Fibre diet (∼15% CF [Crude Fibre]), and (ii) Control diet (∼5% CF). Treatments were applied to two separate dynamic groups each containing 33 (± 3) sows in a cross-over design, after three replicates the treatments were switched between the groups. Approximately nine sows were replaced in each of these groups at 3-week intervals (each replacement constituting a replicate of the study). Sows on the high fibre diet spent a greater percentage of time lying (High Fibre: 43.8, Control: 28.0, SEM 3.25%), while sows on the control diet spent more time sham chewing (High Fibre: 7.2, Control: 28.8, SEM 1.55%). Sows newly introduced to the group on the high fibre treatment spent proportionally more time in the kennel areas compared to newly introduced sows in the control treatment (High Fibre: 0.893, Control: 0.788, SEM 5.10). In general, aggression occurred at a very low frequency and overall levels did not differ between treatments (High Fibre: 0.005, Control: 0.003, SEM 0.0007 [occurrences per min]). However, sows in the control treatment performed head thrusting (High Fibre: 0.02, Control: 0.00, SEM 0.001 [occurrences per min]), and biting behaviour (High Fibre: 0.02, Control: 0.01, SEM 0.002 [occurrences per min]) more frequently than sows on the high fibre diet. There was no effect of treatment on physiological parameters such as plasma cortisol (High Fibre: 1.34, Control: 1.44, SEM 0.114 ng ml–1) or haptoglobin levels (High Fibre: 0.73, Control: 0.64, SEM 0.080 mg ml–1). In summary, provision of a high fibre diet had a positive effect on the welfare of group-housed dry sows. Sows on the high fibre treatment spent more time resting in the kennel areas, less time performing stereotypic behaviours and showed a reduction in some aggressive behaviours relative to sows fed the control diet.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-08-01

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