Animal Health & Welfare

Measuring positive welfare in litters of piglets

Play behaviour is of considerable interest in animal behavioural science and, given that play behaviour tends to occur only under good environmental conditions, has relevance to practical aspects of livestock management. In particular, play has been suggested as a potential indicator for high levels of animal welfare, as opposed to the focus of past research, which has generally aimed at identifying indicators of poor welfare.

BioSS, in collaboration with SRUC, the Roslin Institute and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, investigated spontaneous play behaviour in litters of domestic pigs. By fitting linear mixed models to the behaviour data, we were able to quantify the sources of variation in the number of observed occurrences of different types of play behaviour, both at individual and at litter levels, and to relate such variation in play to measures of pre- and postnatal development.

When interpreting observed behaviours, an understanding of the impact of factors treated as random effects in the mixed model, such as litter and the litter by date interaction, is just as important as recognising the influence of fixed effects such as gender or birth weight. Given that increases in the number of observed occurrences of play behaviours were associated positively with physical development in young pigs at the litter level, this work has provided quantitative support for the use of play as an indicator of positive welfare in piglets.

piglets playingPlay behaviour by piglets can be a sign of high levels of animal welfare.

Further details from: Ian Nevison

Article date 2015

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