Simple Summary: The European Union imposes housing of pregnant sows in social groups since 2013 for animal welfare reasons. Nevertheless, the consequences of different housing conditions for the immune system of pregnant sows remain poorly investigated. We therefore analyzed important aspects of blood cellular immunity and cortisol concentrations of sows either housed in individual crates or in a group during gestation. The results show that individually housed sows had lower T cell numbers, but higher cortisol concentrations. Obviously, common housing conditions can differentially affect key elements of the adaptive immune system and hormonal indicators of stress in pregnant sows.
Abstract: In pig production, pregnant sows are either housed in individual crates or in groups, the latter being mandatory in the EU since 2013. The consequences of different housing conditions on the immune system are however poorly investigated, although immunological alterations may have severe consequences for the animal’s health, performance, and welfare. This study assessed measures of blood celluar immunity with special emphasis on T cells in pregnant German Landrace sows either housed in individual crates or in a social group. Blood samples were taken at four samplings pre partum to evaluate numbers of lymphocyte subpopulations, mitogen-induced lymphocyte proliferation and cytokine-producing T cells. Plasma cortisol concentrations were evaluated as an indicator of stress. We found lower blood lymphocyte numbers (p < 0.01) in individually housed as opposed to group-housed sows, an effect due to lower numbers of cytotoxic T cells, naive TH cells, and CD8+ gd-T cells. Individually housed sows showed higher cortisol concentrations (p < 0.01), whereas lymphocyte functionality did not differ between sows of both housing systems. Possible implications and underlying mechanisms for the endocrine and immunological differences are discussed. We favor the hypothesis that differences in the stressfulness of the environment contributed to the effects, with crate-housing being a more stressful environment—at least under conditions of this study.
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Grün, V.; Schmucker, S.; Schalk, C.; Flauger, B.; Weiler, U.; Stefanski, V. Influence of Different Housing Systems on Distribution, Function and Mitogen-Response of Leukocytes in Pregnant Sows. Animals 2013, 3, 1123-1141.
Grün V, Schmucker S, Schalk C, Flauger B, Weiler U, Stefanski V. Influence of Different Housing Systems on Distribution, Function and Mitogen-Response of Leukocytes in Pregnant Sows. Animals. 2013; 3(4):1123-1141.
Grün, Verena; Schmucker, Sonja; Schalk, Christiane; Flauger, Birgit; Weiler, Ulrike; Stefanski, Volker. 2013. "Influence of Different Housing Systems on Distribution, Function and Mitogen-Response of Leukocytes in Pregnant Sows." Animals 3, no. 4: 1123-1141.