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The impact of chronic environmental stressors on growing pigs, Sus scrofa (Part 2): social behaviour

  • M. O. Parker (a1), E. A. O’Connor (a1), M. A. McLeman (a1), T. G. M. Demmers (a1), J. C. Lowe (a1), R. C. Owen (a1), E. L. Davey (a1), C. M. Wathes (a1) and S. M. Abeyesinghe (a1)...

Abstract

The effects of common and concurrent environmental stressors on the social behaviour of farm animals are poorly understood. Here, we report the results of a multifactorial experiment designed specifically to examine the individual, additive or interactive effects of elevated ammonia, noise and low light (LL) levels on the social behaviour of growing pigs. Social behaviour was measured in terms of the nature, frequency and duration of both initiated and response behaviours for 4 weeks following mixing of the groups. General activity patterns, group cohesion and social discrimination were also examined as a function of the environmental treatments. Elevated concentrations of atmospheric ammonia (∼20 v. <5 ppm) and LL intensity (∼40 v. 200 lux) had the most pronounced effects, particularly on the nature of social interactions, with pigs under these conditions showing more aggression in the early stages of the experiment. In addition, pigs exposed to a high level of mechanical noise representative of artificial ventilation (∼80 v. 40 dB [A]) were less submissive to aggressive acts, while pigs in ∼20 ppm ammonia showed more reciprocated aggression when in coincident LL (<40 lux). The results indicate that atmospheric ammonia at commonly experienced concentrations may undermine social stability, particularly in the presence of low lighting, though the mechanisms are currently unknown. These findings have implications for the welfare of growing pigs and hence policy makers and farmers alike, with respect to the improvement of welfare in intensive pig farming.

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