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Group lactation from 7 or 14 days of age reduces piglet aggression at weaning compared to farrowing crate housing

  • M. Verdon (a1), R. S. Morrison (a2) and J.-L. Rault (a1)

Abstract

Early life experiences can affect social behaviour in later life, but opportunities for socio-behavioural development are often overlooked in current husbandry practices. This experiment investigated the effects of rearing piglets in two-stage group lactation (GL) system from 7 or 14 days of age on piglet aggression at weaning. Three lactation housing treatments were applied to a total of 198 piglets from 30 litters of multiparous sows. All dams farrowed in standard farrowing crates (FCs). Group lactation litters were transferred with their dam at 7 (GL7) or 14 days (GL14) postpartum to GL pens (one pen of five sows at 8.4 m2/sow and one pen of seven sows at 8.1 m2/sow, per GL treatment). Farrowing crate litters remained with their dam in a single litter until weaning. At weaning, 10 to 14 piglets from two unfamiliar litters from the same housing treatment were mixed into pens (n=5 pens/treatment) and their behaviour was continuously recorded for 3.5 h. For each pen, the frequency of aggressive bouts (reciprocal and non-reciprocal aggression lasting <5 s), the frequency and duration of fights (reciprocal aggression lasting ⩾5 s) and bullying events (non-reciprocal aggression lasting ⩾5 s) were recorded, along with whether interactions involved familiar or unfamiliar piglets. Aggressive bouts delivered by FC piglets were approximately 1.5 and 3.0 times more frequent than that delivered by GL7 and GL14 piglets, respectively (40.5, 16.7 and 9.9 bouts/pig, respectively; P<0.05). Fighting was more frequent (1.6, 0.3 and 0.4 fights/pig, respectively; P<0.001) and fights were longer (83, 15 and 32 s fight/pig, respectively; P<0.001) between FC piglets than between GL7 or GL14 piglets. Bullying did not differ between housing treatments (P>0.05). GL7 and GL14 piglets engaged in a similar number of fights with unfamiliar as familiar piglets, but FC piglets had almost three times as many fights with unfamiliar than with familiar piglets (P<0.05). This experiment confirms the benefits of GL housing for pig social development. Further investigation is required to determine whether mixing before 14 days postpartum has implications for other indicators of animal welfare and productivity in a two-stage GL housing system.

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a

Present address: Institute of Animal Husbandry and Animal Welfare, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna 1210, Austria.

Present address: Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology, University of Tasmania, Tasmania 7320, Australia. E-mail: megan.verdon@utas.edu.au

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