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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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

Author
item Marchant-forde, Jeremy
item Lay, Jr, Donald - Don
item Mcmunn, Kimberly
item Cheng, Heng Wei
item Marchant-forde, Ruth
item Pajor, E

Submitted to: Journal of Animal Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/1/2013
Publication Date: 3/1/2014
Citation: Marchant Forde, J.N., Lay Jr., D.C., McMunn, K.A., Cheng, H., Marchant-Forde, R.M., Pajor, E.A. 2014. Postnatal piglet husbandry practices and well-being: The effects of alternative techniques delivered in combination. Journal of Animal Science. 92(3):1150-1160.

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 high and low 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. However, when we combined the procedures, there were really no significant treatment differences between piglets that received all five high impact procedures together compared to piglets that received all five low impact procedures together, when the time taken to carry out the procedures was taken into account. However, we did see that male piglets of both treatments showed a more maximal response in the stress hormone, cortisol, than female piglets presumably due to the effect of castration. Thus, at least in terms of cortisol, we can say that castration, regardless of method, is probably the most stressful of all routine procedures that are carried out. 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: Within a few days post-partum, piglets are usually subjected to a number of procedures given together that are a likely source of pain and distress. Alternative methods are available for all common processing procedures, but their relative impact when delivered together has not been quantified. The aim of this study was to compare a combination of five different procedures previously determined to have higher or lower impact on piglet well-being, when delivered together: High Impact – teeth grinding, hot tail docking, ear notching, oral iron administration and castration by tearing spermatic cords; Low Impact – teeth clipping, cold tail docking, ear tagging, iron injecting and castration by cutting spermatic cords. A total of 8 pigs from each of 10 litters were used - one male and one female pig per treatment. Within each litter, 2 piglets were assigned to 1 of 4 possible procedures: High impact processing plus blood sampling (HIGH), Low impact processing plus blood sampling (LOW), a sham procedure plus blood sampling and a sham procedure alone. Blood was sampled before processing and at 45 min, 4h, 48h, 1wk, and 2wks post-procedure and assayed for cortisol and beta-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 also recorded digitally and analyzed to determine duration, mean and peak frequencies. Piglets were weighed before the procedure and at 24h, 48h, 1wk and 2wks afterwards. Lesions were scored on a 0 to 5 scale at 24h, 1 wk and 2wks post-procedure. Body weight did not differ between treatments (P>0.1). Females did not differ in their plasma cortisol response to processing (P>0.1). In contrast, male pigs in both the HIGH and LOW treatments exhibited elevated plasma cortisol at 45 min after processing as compared to Control pigs (P<0.001). Pigs in the HIGH treatment performed more squeals as compared to the LOW (P<0.01) and the two control treatments (P<0.001). Pigs in the LOW treatment performed more squeals than in the two control treatments (P<0.07). However, the HIGH impact procedures took significantly longer to perform and when adjusted for time, no treatment differences were noted (P>0.1). These data indicate that both the HIGH and LOW processing approaches reported in this study result in a robust and potentially maximal stress response, especially when castration is involved. In addition, the time required to perform procedures contributes significantly to the stress experienced by the pigs and thus, the amount of stress that piglets are exposed to, can be influenced by the skill of the stockperson carrying out the procedure as quickly and accurately as possible.

Last Modified: 09/20/2017
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