Endocrine changes during group housing of primiparous sows in early pregnancy.
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The effect of group housing sows during early pregnancy on maternal endocrine changes and on embryonic survival was studied. Twenty crossbred (Swedish Yorkshire x Swedish Landrace) primiparous sows were used. On day 11 +/- 1 of pregnancy 3 unacquainted sows were randomly assigned to a single pen measuring 3 m x 3 m in area. A fourth sow in each group was housed in an individual pen and used as a control. This procedure was repeated 5 times to collect data from 5 animals in each rank as well as in a control group. Blood samples were collected from the day before grouping to day 5 after grouping for cortisol, corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG), progesterone (P4), oestradiol-17 beta (E2) and prostaglandin F2 alpha metabolite (PG-metabolite) analysis. A rank-order test and an ACTH test were performed on day 4 and day 5 of grouping respectively. The sows were slaughtered on day 17 +/- 1 of pregnancy and embryos recovered. Aggression accompanied by elevations (p < 0.05) in cortisol concentrations occurred in all grouped sows on the first day of grouping. The cortisol increase was greater (p < 0.01) in the subordinate than in the other ranked sows. Cortisol concentrations and the level of aggression decreased on subsequent days during grouping, but the cortisol levels were still higher than on the pre-grouping day except for the intermediate ranked sows. Cortisol concentrations after the ACTH test were similar in the grouped as well as the control sows. The dominance hierarchy was confirmed during the rank order test. Concentrations of P4, E2, PG-metabolite and CBG were similar between the group-housed sows and with the controls. Mean embryonic recovery was 66.8% +/- 11.5%, 71.3% +/- 6.0%, 70.0% +/- 16.0%, and 69.9% +/- 5.8% for the dominant, intermediate, subordinate, and control sows respectively. Hence, group housing during early pregnancy did not influence reproductive hormones or embryonic survival.