To help alleviate lameness and leg injuries that are common concerns in the swine industry, a team of researchers evaluated the impact of rubber mats on sow health, behavior and welfare during 10 days in the breeding area.

In short, sows preferred to rest in stalls with mats and showed a reduction in lesions and an increase in postural changes. Therefore, researchers concluded that rubber mats should be considered to improve sow welfare.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that lameness is the number three reason why sows are culled on farms, representing 15% of sows.

Concrete has been associated with hoof lesions in finishing pigs. The high incidence of leg injuries in pigs may be an indicator that the comfort needs of pigs are not being met.

Lying comfort is an important aspect of modern swine production, as it is estimated that confined hogs spend about 80% of their day resting. Straw offers a means of providing comfort but can increase costs and create manure handling issues. Rubber mats offer an inexpensive and simple alternative to straw.

In the study, several parities of Landrace/Yorkshire sows (128) were housed in groups of four in pens with solid concrete feeding stalls and a slotted concrete group area.

The control pen remained unchanged, while the treatment pen had rubber mats in the feeding stalls.

Health (lesions and lameness) and behavioral measures (resting behavior and frequency of postural changes) were documented to determine the impact of mats on sow welfare.

Results showed that resting behavior (lying, sitting and kneeling) differed by treatment, as sows in concrete pens spent more time resting in the group area than sows in pens with matted stalls. Sows spent more time resting in the matted stalls and reduced their group area use.

The frequency of postural changes within the stalls was higher for sows on mats than it was on concrete. Researchers suggested this may indicate that sows on mats were more willing to change posture due to reduced pain (as observed in dairy cattle) or were better able to change posture due to reduced slipping (as seen in farrowing sows).

Lesion scores at the end of the 10-day study were higher for both sow groups than prior to mixing. However, sows that had access to matted feeding stalls had lower lesion scores on Day 10 compared to sows in concrete pens (Figure 1).

Lameness scores showed a similar pattern to lesions, but treatments were not different at the end of the 10-day study. This result may be due to the short length of this study.

This research project conducted at Purdue University was supported by USDA.

Researchers: Monica Elmore, Univer­ sity of Illinois; Joe Garner, Stanford University; Brian Richert and Don Lay, Purdue University; Anna Johnson, Iowa State University; and Ed Pajor, University of Calgary. Contact Elmore at melmore@illinois.edu.