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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Effects of socialising piglets on sow and piglet performance and behaviour of entire male piglets

Rydhmer, L.; Andersson, K.

Abstract

Entire male pigs show more aggressive behaviour and mounting than female pigs. By sorting growing pigs into male and female pens, at least half of the pigs are protected from the aggressive behaviour and mounting of the entire males. Mixing of unknown pigs provokes them to perform such behaviours which increase the risk for injuries. The idea behind socialising piglets is to create groups of piglets from several litters that become familiar with each other and thus show less aggressive behaviour and mounting later, when housed together after weaning. The effect of socialising piglets on animal welfare was studied on 24 sows and their 235 piglets. Male piglets were not castrated. Sows were housed in individual farrowing pens without crates. A small door was opened between two adjacent pens at a piglet age of two weeks for half of the litters (12 litters), and the other half was regarded as a control (12 litters). At weaning, control piglets were kept in groups of eight litter mates whereas socialised piglets were kept in groups of either eight entire males or eight females from two litters. Sow weight, body condition and health were recorded together with nursing events and social behaviour of piglets (aggressive, mounting, contact). There was no effect of socialisation on udder lesions or sows' relative change in body reserves. Socialised and control piglets did not differ in daily weight gain before weaning, but socialised piglets tended to have higher growth rate during the week after weaning (P = 0.07). The day after opening between pens, skin lesions were more common among socialised piglets (as compared to control piglets at the same age, P = 0.02) but at weaning, skin lesions were more common among control piglets than socialised piglets (P = 0.01). Almost all lesions were mild. No aggressive behaviour of sows towards piglets was observed. No difference between control and socialised piglets in social behaviour was seen before weaning. The frequency of aggressive and mounting behaviours was low after weaning for both socialised and control piglets, but socialised piglets showed more contact behaviour (P = 0.02). Socialised entire males showed as little aggressive and mounting behaviour as females. Nursing frequency was not affected by piglet socialisation and cross-suckling was rare. Based on the performance of piglets and sows, nursing frequency, and health of piglets and sows, we conclude that socialising entire male piglets (and their sisters) improve piglet welfare without any negative effect on the sows. CO 2024 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of The Animal Consortium. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

Keywords

Aggression; Nursing; Pig; Socialisation; Health

Published in

Animal
2024, Volume: 18, number: 3, article number: 101086Publisher: ELSEVIER