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Influence of social status on the welfare of growing pigs housed in barren and enriched environments

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One hundred and twenty-eight pigs were reared in barren or enriched environments from birth to slaughter at 21 weeks of age. Pigs remained as litter-mate groups until 8 weeks of age when they were mixed into groups of eight animals. These groups were balanced for gender and weight and contained two pigs from each of four different litters. Each pig was assigned high or low social status on the basis of relative success in aggressive interactions at mixing. Injury levels were assessed on a weekly basis from 8 to 21 weeks of age. Pigs were exposed to two group food competition tests after a period of food restriction at 10 weeks of age, and to an individual novel pen test at 11 weeks of age. Behavioural and plasma cortisol responses to both types of test were recorded. Low social status was associated with increased injuries to the head, neck and ears, and therefore reduced welfare. Pigs with low social status showed reduced resource-holding ability in the food competition test, and greater avoidance of a novel object during the novel pen test. It is suggested that avoidance of the novel object reflected 'learned' fearfulness in these individuals. Environmental enrichment did not negate the effect of low social status on injury levels, but did appear to reduce the negative influence of low social status on stress during food restriction, and led to a reduction in fearfulness in response to the novel pen test. These results suggest that environmental enrichment may improve the welfare of growing pigs with low social status.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-11-01

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