Stall design may affect sow behavior


URBANA, Ill. — In an effort to establish welfare-friendly guidelines on how to effectively manage gestating sows, researchers at the University of Illinois are studying the impact of stall design on sow behavior and well-being.

“Sows have changed,” said Janeen Salak-Johnson, U of I associate professor of animal sciences. “We need to change with them. Our research shows that modifications of stall design may have a positive effect on sow behavior and well-being.”


In this study, sows were evaluated in a standard gestation stall and a turn-around gestation stall. A turn-around gestation stall pairs two sows together with a shared divider that allows one sow to turn around at a time without difficulty.

Researchers compared the behavioral differences of housing sows in standard or turn-around stalls for 30 days prior to placing some sows in group pens and leaving some sows in stalls for the remaining gestational period. Preliminary findings show that slight modifications to stall design impact measures of well-being, particularly behavior and immune status.

“Sometimes behavior is the best adjustment an animal can make in a stressful situation,” Salak-Johnson said. “Making modifications to the gestation stall may allow sows to adapt more easily to stressful situations without experiencing negative consequences.”


From a behavior standpoint, researchers observed that stall design modifications also resulted in differences between sow groups. Sows in standard stalls sat more, while sows in turn-around stalls lay more.

Oral-nasal-facial activity (ONF) increased in sows in turn-around stalls as they approached gestation. However, sows in standard stalls engaged in less ONF overall and remained consistent in the amount of ONF they displayed throughout the gestational period.

In previous studies, immune status has been affected more by day of gestation rather than actual treatment. However, U of I’s research indicates the stall design treatment may impact sow immune status. Sows in turn-around stalls had greater lymphocyte activity which indicated a more stimulated immune response compared to sows in the standard stall.

“This is one of the first sets of data that has shown an immune response to stall types,” Salak-Johnson said. “The next step is to figure out what these differences mean and which response is better for the sow.”


An activated immune system could imply either a sow’s biological defense to stress or a sow’s readiness to fight off infection if challenged with a pathogen. Salak-Johnson and her team are interested in discovering the positive physical components of each stall type and combining the positives together in order to make housing recommendations.

“If you really want to find the best option, you need to see research results that prove one housing option is better than the other,” she said. “Right now, that information doesn’t exist. People want to throw sows in group pens to avoid certain behaviors such as ONF. However, ONF may actually be better for the sow.”

Researchers are also detecting differences between sows housed in standard stalls before moving to group housing and sows housed in turn-around stalls before moving to group housing. While there are no differences in ONF, researchers have observed differences in two maintenance behaviors — lying down and standing.Protect horses from poisonous plants

There are countless poisonous plants in the world. Unless they are specialists who can identify all the varieties, it is often difficult for owners to roam their pastures and know what to look for.

But two of the most common plants that are poisonous to horses are white snake root and maple leaf.

“White snake root is very common in this part of the country,” said Eric Dunayer, a veterinary toxicologist at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and an adjunct instructor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana. This plant specifically causes heart damage, an organ that can be scarred if the disease is not caught early.


Depending on the severity of the scarring, a veterinarian may declare the horse unsafe to ride. “Horses can show symptoms after eating the plant in just a few days or weeks, depending upon the amount ingested,” notes Dunayer.

Symptoms include poor coordination, weakness, muscle tremors, swelling and exercise intolerance.

Another plant poisoning in horses is red maple leaf ingestion. Fresh leaves are not a problem, but the wilting leaves are toxic, says Dunayer. If you do have a red maple in your pasture, be sure to remove fallen branches before the leaves on them start to wilt.

Clinical signs of red maple poisoning are red urine, weakness due to anemia and icterus that can be seen on the gums.

To prevent any type of plant poisoning on your farm, Dunayer recommends owners walk the pasture and send any suspicious plants to their local Extension office.


In general, many horses know not to eat certain plants, but that is not always true. For example, if you spray herbicide on the field, that in and of itself may not be toxic, but it does make many poisonous plants more palatable. This is because as the plant starts to die it becomes sweeter, and many horses enjoy that taste.

There are over 2,000 toxic plant species, but the growing patterns are very regional. For example, on the West Coast yellow star thistle is a huge problem, but not in the Midwest.

Take action

If you suspect your horse has eaten a poisonous plant, Dunayer recommends that you, call your veterinarian as soon as possible and try to identify the plant

Even if you cannot classify the plant, a veterinarian may be able to treat your horse symptomatically depending on the animal’s clinical signs. But the sooner the animal is treated, the better the prognosis.

For more information about toxic plants, contact your local veterinarian.


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