The behaviour, welfare, growth performance and meat quality of pigs housed in a deep-litter, large group housing system compared to a conventional confinement system

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Abstract

The behaviour, welfare, growth performance, and meat quality of deep-litter, large group-housed pigs were compared to pigs raised in a conventional housing system. Castrated males were housed from 9 weeks of age in a conventional housing (15 pigs/pen; 1.0 m2/pig) or deep-litter, large group housing system (90 pigs/pen; 1.7 m2/pig). Behavioural observations and stress physiology measurements were conducted at 9, 17 and 22 weeks of age. The willingness of the pigs to approach a novel object was assessed using a standard novel object test at 22 weeks of age. Pigs in the deep-litter, group housing system spent more time (P < 0.05) standing, locomoting, and interacting with their environment compared with contemporaries housed in the conventional system. At 17 weeks but not at 9 or 22 weeks, pigs in the conventional housing engaged in more (P < 0.05) social interactions than deep-litter housed pigs. Salivary cortisol was higher (P < 0.05) in deep-litter pigs compared to conventional pigs at 9 weeks of age but were similar at 17 and 22 weeks of age. Pigs in the deep-litter, large group system exhibited more exploratory behaviour (P < 0.05) compared to conventionally raised pigs in the novel test. Loins from pigs housed in the deep-litter, large group treatment had lower (P < 0.01) loin pH, more (P < 0.05) purge loss, more glucose in purge (P < 0.05) and were lighter in subjective colour (P < 0.05) than loins from conventionally housed pigs. However, there were no significant differences observed in the objective colour measurements of L*, a* and b*. A trained sensory panel detected no differences in tenderness, juiciness or overall desirability of loins from deep-litter or conventionally housed pigs. In this experiment, housing system modified pig behaviour, fearfulness and stress physiology (at 9 weeks of age) but these differences did not negatively impact meat quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-24
Number of pages13
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume103
Issue number1-2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to acknowledge the financial support from the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, North Mankato, MN and Hormel Foods, Austin, MN, USA. Furthermore, the technical support of the staff at the University of Minnesota's, West Central Research and Outreach Center is greatly appreciated.

Copyright:
Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Deep-litter
  • Fearfulness
  • Large groups
  • Meat quality
  • Pig-social behaviour

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