An Investigation into the Behavioural and Physiological Responses of Swine to Routine Surgical Procedures

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Bovey, Kristine E
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University of Guelph

The objective of this research was to investigate the behavioural, physiological and immunological effects of routine surgical procedures in neonatal swine in order to provide producers with science-based recommendations. In the first experiment, low- or average-birth-weight piglets that were tail docked and ear notched at 1 or 3 days of age showed subtle differences resulting from age at processing. However, low-birth-weight male piglets had the lowest attendance during nursing bouts and spent the greatest amount of time lying alone. Vocalization data suggests that ABW piglets may be less reactive to the procedures on d 1. Overall, the decreased vitality and reduced survivability of low-birth-weight piglets suggests that delaying processing until day 3 for these piglets may be preferable. In the second experiment, the effects of docked tail length and nursery stocking density on tail-biting behaviour, skin lesions and rectal prolapses were investigated. Long-tailed pigs (docked to 4.5 cm at birth) were most vulnerable to tail-biting, and housing at a moderate versus high nursery stocking density was not sufficient to reduce tail-biting. High nursery stocking density negatively impacted skin lesion scoring and growth performance for the majority of the grower-finisher period. Pigs from either nursery stocking density and docked tail length groups were equally likely to be affected by prolapsed rectal mucosa. Given the decreased survivability and significantly lighter weaning weight for low-birth-weight piglets compared to those of average-birth-weight, delaying processing of low-birth-weight piglets may be the most humane option. Further, until tail-biting is better understood and a more effective solution found, the routine docking of tails remains the optimal method for balancing a situation with enormous welfare-reducing potential.

piglet, processing, ear notching, tail, tail biting, tail docking, tail length, birth weight