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Longitudinal gait development and variability of growing pigs reared on three different floor types

  • S. Stavrakakis (a1) (a2), J. H. Guy (a1), O. M. E. Warlow (a2), G. R. Johnson (a2) and S. A. Edwards (a1)...

Abstract

Biomechanical investigation into locomotor pathology in commercial pigs is lacking despite this being a major concern for the industry. Different floor types are used in modern, intensive pig production systems at different stages of the pigs’ production cycle. The general perception holds that slatted and/or hard solid concrete surfaces are inferior to soft straw-covered floors regarding healthy musculoskeletal development. Previous studies have compared pigs housed on different floor types using clinical, subjective assessment of leg weakness and lameness. However, reliability studies generally report a low repeatability of clinical lameness scoring. The objective of this study was to quantitatively assess the long-term effect of pen floors, reflected in the biomechanical gait characteristics and associated welfare of the pigs. A cohort of 24 pigs housed on one of three different floor types was followed from 37 to 90 kg average liveweight, with gait analysis (motion capture) starting at 63 kg. The three floor types were fully slatted concrete, partly slatted concrete and deep straw-bedded surfaces, all located within the same building. Pigs underwent five repeated camera-based motion captures, 7 to 10 days apart, during which 3D coordinate data of reflective skin markers attached to leg anatomical landmarks were collected. Pigs walked on the same solid concrete walkway during captures. One-way ANOVA and repeated measures ANOVA were used to analyse the gait data. Results revealed changes over time in the spatiotemporal gait pattern which were similar in magnitude and direction for the pigs from different floor types. Significant increases in elbow joint flexion with age were observed in all pigs (P⩽0.050; +6°). There were few differences between floor groups, except for the step-to-stride ratio in the hind legs being more irregular in pigs housed on partly slatted floors (P=0.012; 3.6 times higher s.d.) compared with those on 5 to 10 cm straw-bedding in all pen areas. As the level of clinical problems was generally low in this cohort, it may be that floors elicit problems only when there is a primary predisposing factor increasing weakness in susceptible tissues.

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