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Does the environmental background (intensive v. outdoor systems) influence the behaviour of piglets at weaning?

  • Y. Y. W. Lau (a1), J. R. Pluske (a1) and P. A. Fleming (a1)

Abstract

Under intensive pig husbandry, outdoor systems offer a more complex physical and social environment compared with indoor systems (farrowing sheds). As the rearing environment affects behavioural development, it can, therefore, influence behavioural responses of pigs to stressful environments in later stages of production. We tested how the rearing environment influenced behavioural responses to a novel arena test in piglets on the day that they were weaned and mixed into large groups. We recorded video footage and compared the behavioural responses of 30 outdoor-raised and 30 farrowing shed-raised piglets tested in an experimental arena and sequentially exposed to four challenges (each for 5 min) on the day of weaning. Quantitative and qualitative behavioural measures were recorded using time budgets and scoring demeanour or ‘qualitative behavioural expression’ (using Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA)). When held in isolation (challenge 1), both groups were scored as more ‘scared/worried’, while outdoor-raised piglets spent more time eating and jumping against the arena walls. Both groups interacted with a plastic ball (challenge 2: exposure to a novel object) during which they were scored as more ‘playful/curious’ than other challenges. When a food bowl was introduced (challenge 3), farrowing shed-raised piglets were more interested in playing with the food bowl itself, whereas outdoor-raised piglets spent more time eating the feed. Finally, there were no significant differences in social behaviour (challenge 4: introduction of another piglet) between the two groups in terms of the latency to contact each other, amount of time recorded engaged in aggressive/non-aggressive social interactions or QBA scores. Although piglets spent 30% of their time interacting with the other piglet, and half of this time (47%) was engaged in negative interactions (pushing, biting), the levels of aggression were not different between the two groups. Overall, outdoor-raised piglets ate more and were scored as more ‘calm/passive’, whereas farrowing shed-raised piglets spent more time investigating their environment and were scored as more ‘playful/inquisitive’. In conclusion, we did not find differences in behaviour between outdoor-raised and farrowing shed-raised piglets that would highlight welfare issues. The differences found in this study may reflect conflicting affective states, with responses to confinement, neophobia and motivation for exploration evident.

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Keywords

Does the environmental background (intensive v. outdoor systems) influence the behaviour of piglets at weaning?

  • Y. Y. W. Lau (a1), J. R. Pluske (a1) and P. A. Fleming (a1)

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