Influence of social mixing and group size on skin lesions and mounting in organic entire male pigs

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Alternatives to surgical castration are needed, due to stress and pain caused by castration of male pigs. One alternative is production of entire male pigs. However, changed behaviour of entire males compared with castrated males might adversely affect the welfare of entire males and changes in management procedures and production system might be needed. Elements from the organic pig production system might be beneficial in this aspect. The aim of this article is to investigate the effect of grouping strategy including social mixing and group size on levels of mounting behaviour and skin lesions, hypothesising that procedures that disrupt the social stability (e.g. regrouping) will have a larger negative effect in small groups compared with large groups. Approximately 1600 organic entire male pigs of the breed (Landrace×Yorkshire)×Duroc were reared in parallel in five organic herds, distributed across four batches in a 2×2 factorial design in order to test the influence of social mixing (presence or absence of social mixing at relocation) and group size (15 and 30 animals). Animals were able to socialise with piglets from other litters during the lactation period, and were all mixed across litters at weaning. A second mixing occurred at insertion to fattening pens for pigs being regrouped. Counting of skin lesions (1348 or 1124 pigs) and registration of mounting behaviour (1434 or 1258 pigs) were done on two occasions during the experimental period. No interactive effects were found between social mixing and group size on either skin lesions or mounting frequency. Herd differences were found for both mounting frequency and number of skin lesions. No association between skin lesions and mounting were revealed. Social mixing and group size were shown as interacting effects with herds on mounting frequency (P<0.0001), but with no consistent pattern across all herds. In addition, no effect of social mixing was found on mean number of skin lesions, but more lesions were observed in large groups (P<0.036). This could indicate that keeping entire male pigs in groups of 30 animals as compared with smaller groups of 15 may marginally decrease the welfare of these animals.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal
Pages (from-to)1225-1233
ISSN1751-7311
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Research areas

  • entire male pigs, skin lesions, mounting, welfare, organic production

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