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Nesting Material for Sows

April 29, 2020

Liz Donnelly, CAFRE Pig Development Adviser

Nest building is an important part of preparing for farrowing. Irrespective of where sows farrow, whether it is in the wild, outside or in a farrowing house they will show signs of nest building. After searching and finding a suitable site, sows in the wild root out a 10 cm deep nest. They collect grass, roots and leaves to line the nest with larger branches placed over the top.

At a recent Pig Business Development Group meeting Dr Emma Baxter, a researcher from Scotland’s Rural College discussed the benefits of providing sows with nesting material. Emma explained that sows need nesting material to meet their behavioural needs and start to nest build approximately 16-24 hours before farrowing. Sows that nest build are less stressed and calmer. They lie more on their sides with the udder better exposed allowing the piglets easier access to the teats. Another benefit is the higher production of oxytocin and prolactin, with both hormones playing an important role during and after farrowing.

Sow Nesting-material

Research also shows that sows that are given nesting material produce better quality colostrum. The immunoglobin (antibody) levels which ‘kick start’ the pig’s immune system are higher. As pigs are born with very few antibodies they rely on the sow’s colostrum to obtain the antibodies they need to fight off bacteria and viruses. Producing better quality colostrum will therefore have a positive impact on pig health and pre-weaning mortality.

What is suitable nesting material

Shredded paper is widely used as a nesting material. As well as being a suitable nesting material, it is very absorbent and helps dry the pigs once they are born. However, a good alternative to shredded paper is hessian/jute sheets. The sheets, which are attached to the farrowing crate, can be manipulated by the sow. Being able to manipulate a material helps the sow meet her behavioural needs reducing stress and frustration. However, for the hessian/jute sheet to be of benefit to the sow it must be within her reach! Once the sow has finished nest building, she shows little interest in the nesting material. However, the new born piglets will make good use of the sheets as they are comfortable to lie on and smell of the sow.
So, as Dr Baxter says, ‘giving sows nest building material is a win-win situation’!