Maternal investment, sibling competition, and offspring survival with increasing litter size and parity in pigs (Sus scrofa)
The aim of this study was to examine the effects of litter size and parity on sibling competition, piglet survival, and weight gain. It was predicted that competition for teats would increase with increasing litter size, resulting in a higher mortality due to maternal infanticide (i.e., crushing) and starvation, thus keeping the number of surviving piglets constant. We predicted negative effects on weight gain with increasing litter size. Based on maternal investment theory, we also predicted that piglet mortality would be higher for litters born late in a sow's life and thus that the number of surviving piglets would be higher in early litters. As predicted, piglet mortality increased with increasing litter size both due to an increased proportion of crushed piglets, where most of them failed in the teat competition, and due to starvation caused by increased sibling competition, resulting in a constant number of survivors. Piglet weight at day 1 and growth until weaning also declined with increasing litter size. Sows in parity four had higher piglet mortality due to starvation, but the number of surviving piglets was not affected by parity. In conclusion, piglet mortality caused by maternal crushing of piglets, many of which had no teat success, and starvation caused by sibling competition, increased with increasing litter size for most sow parities. The constant number of surviving piglets at the time of weaning suggests that 10 to 11 piglets could be close to the upper limit that the domestic sow is capable of taking care of.
Andersen, Inger Lise, Eric Nævdal and Knut Egil Bøe
Sows - Piglet survival - Maternal behaviour - Litter size