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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SAFEGUARDING WELL-BEING OF FOOD PRODUCING ANIMALS

Location: Livestock Behavior Research

Title: Postnatal piglet husbandry practices and well-being: The effects of alternative techniques delivered separately

Authors
item Marchant-Forde, Jeremy
item Lay, Jr, Donald
item McMunn, Kimberly
item Cheng, Heng Wei
item Pajor, Edmond -
item Marchant-Forde, Ruth -

Submitted to: Journal of Animal Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: October 29, 2009
Publication Date: November 7, 2009
Citation: Marchant Forde, J.N., Lay Jr, D.C., Mcmunn, K.A., Cheng, H., Pajor, E.A., Marchant-Forde, R.M. 2009. Postnatal piglet husbandry practices and well-being: The effects of alternative techniques delivered separately. Journal of Animal Science. 87:1479-1492.

Interpretive Summary: One to three days after being born, piglets on commercial farms undergo various routine processing procedures. Nearly all piglets will have their canine teeth clipped to prevent scratching the sow and other piglets, their tails docked to prevent tail-biting and they will be given an injection of an iron-containing compound to prevent anemia. Male piglets will be castrated to prevent the meat being flavored by male hormones. Additionally, some piglets, depending on the farm policy, may also have notches cut out of their ears, so that they can be individually identified. All of these procedures have come under scrutiny from the animal welfare lobby as they inflict a degree of pain and distress. Over recent years, alternative methods have been developed to reduce the impact of single procedures on the piglet but no-one has yet studied the effect of these alternative procedures when given together, as would happen on farm. This study investigated the well-being effects of higher and lower impact alternatives, when multiple procedures were applied to each piglet. When given separately, we had found quite clear distinctions were possible between high and low impact techniques. When we combined the procedures, we again found treatment differences between piglets that received all five higher impact procedures together compared to piglets that received all five lower impact procedures together. The higher impact procedures took longer to carry out, and resulted in increased ß-endorphin levels, worse wound healing scores and higher measures of vocal indicators of distress than the lower impact procedures. However, both combinations of procedures decreased welfare compared to piglets undergoing only handling. Producers should be aware of the pain and distress that these procedures cause when they are carried out together and perhaps should consider avoiding those procedures that might be unnecessary or using a degree of analgesia or local anesthesia to minimize the stress response. Producers should also ensure that procedures are carried out as quickly and as accurately as possible.

Technical Abstract: Soon after birth, piglets undergo procedures that are a likely source of stress. The aim of this study was to evaluate stress responses evoked by 2 combinations of alternative methods for performing the following processing procedures: 1) teeth resection (TR) – clip vs. grind; 2) identification (ID) – ear tag vs. ear notch; 3) iron administration (FE) – inject vs. oral; 4) castration (CA) – cords cut vs. torn; 5) tail-docking (TD) – cold vs. hot-clip. Ten litters of eight, 2- and 3-d-old piglets were assigned to each procedure. Within each litter 1 male and 1 female piglet was assigned to 1 of 4 possible procedures: the 2 alternative combinations, sham procedures, and sham procedures plus blood sampling. Blood was sampled before processing and at 45 min, 4 h, 48 h, 1 wk, and 2 wk post-procedure and assayed for cortisol and ß-endorphin. Procedures were video-taped and analyzed to evaluate the time taken to perform the procedure and the number of squeals, grunts and escape attempts. Vocalizations were analyzed to determine mean and peak frequencies and duration. Piglets were weighed before the procedure and at 24 h, 48 h, 1 wk, and 2 wk afterwards. ID, TD and CA lesions were scored on a 0 to 5 scale at 24 h, 1 wk, and 2 wk post-procedure. Both combinations of methods took longer to carry out than sham procedures and resulted in increased numbers of squeals, grunts and escape attempts during the procedures and higher peak frequencies of vocalizations compared with the control treatments (P < 0.05). Cortisol concentrations 45 min after processing was also higher in the two combination treatments than in the control treatments (P < 0.05). Comparing between procedure treatments, the More Stressful combination of methods took longer to carry out, resulted in higher ß-endorphin concentrations at 1 wk, had higher peak frequency of vocalizations and increased ear and tail wound lesion scores than the Less Stressful combination (P < 0.05). Growth during d 2-7 post-procedure was lower in More Stressful piglets than control piglets (P < 0.05). Using measures of behavior, physiology and productivity, the More Stressful combination of procedures decreased welfare relative to the Less Stressful combination, however both combinations decreased welfare relative to controls. The time taken to carry out the procedure would appear to be an important factor in the strength of the stress response.

Last Modified: 7/28/2014
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