Sows' preferences for different forage mixtures offered as fresh or dry forage in relation to botanical and chemical composition


Aubé, L., Guay, F., Bergeron, R., Bélanger, G., Tremblay, G.F., Devillers, N. (2019). Sows' preferences for different forage mixtures offered as fresh or dry forage in relation to botanical and chemical composition. Animal, [online] 13(12), 2885-2895.

Plain language summary

Studies suggest that providing forage to pregnant sows improves their health and welfare. Hence, increasing the intake of forages by sows could improve performance as well. Reliable information is required on the types of forages that should be offered to sows to increase both fresh and dry forage intake, particularly in alternative breeding systems that provide more possibilities of giving access to forages than conventional systems (e.g. fresh forages in pasture-based systems). The results revealed that forages rich in legumes are preferred by sows.


Providing forage to feed-restricted pregnant sows may improve their welfare by reducing their high feeding motivation. The aim of this study was to determine sows' preferences for four forage mixtures cultivated in Canada. Forage mixtures were compared when offered either fresh or dry. The four forage mixtures were composed of different proportions and species of legumes (alfalfa (Alf) or red clover (Clo)) and grasses (tall fescue (F) and/or timothy (T)): (1) Alf-F, (2) Alf-F-T, (3) Clo-T and (4) Clo-F-T. Voluntary intake was measured, and preference tests were carried out for two experiments: one in spring for fresh forages ( n = 8) and the other in autumn for hays ( n = 8) with different sows housed in individual pens and fed a concentrated diet meeting their nutritional requirements for maintenance and foetal growth. Voluntary intake was measured by offering each forage mixture separately (one forage mixture/day) during 90 min according to a 4 × 4 Latin square design replicated four times. During preference tests, all six combinations of two forage mixtures were offered once (one combination/day) for 45 min to each sow. Individual forage intake was measured, and feeding behaviour was observed. Forages were analysed for botanical and chemical composition. Difference in voluntary intake among the four forage mixtures was determined using a variance analysis followed by Tukey tests for post hoc comparisons. In preference tests, differences between the two forage mixtures offered were determined using a paired Student's t test, and the most ingested forage mixture was considered the preferred one. Results from both experiments revealed clear preferences for some forage mixtures when offered either fresh or dry. Forage mixtures with a greater proportion of legumes (AlfT and CloT) were preferred over forage mixtures with a higher proportion of grasses (AlfFT and CloFT). The AlfFT and CloFT forage mixtures contained at least 30% of fescue; therefore, the greater preference for the AlfT and CloT forage mixtures could also be due to the absence of fescue. Sows preferred forages with low DM and NDF concentrations and high CP and non-structural carbohydrates concentrations. Based on results from previous studies, the preferences seen in the present study are most likely due to the greater proportion of legumes, although an effect of tall fescue in preference cannot be excluded. Therefore, offering forages with a high proportion of legumes would be a good strategy to maximise both fresh and dry forage intake in pregnant sows.