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Mounting behaviour in finishing pigs: Stable individual differences are not due to dominance or stage of sexual development

By Sara Hintze, Desiree Scott, Simon Turner, Simone L. Meddle, Richard B. D’Eath

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Abstract

Every year around 100 million male piglets are castrated in the EU, usually without anaesthesia or post-operative analgesia. This surgical intervention is painful and stressful. Several main players within the pig industry have voluntarily agreed to end the practice of surgical pig castration in the EU by 2018. One alternative to castration is entire male pig production. However, entire males behave differently than castrates, for example, by performing more mounting behaviour, which is suggested to be a welfare problem. The aim of our study was to develop a comprehensive ethogram of different types of mounting and to investigate properties, causes and consequences of mounting behaviour in finishing pigs. The study included 80 entire male and 80 female pigs from two farrowing batches born six weeks apart. Mixed sex and single-sex housing of pigs are both common in pig farming, so to ensure our study was representative, the 160 pigs were assigned to social groups of 20 in three treatments: entire male pigs only (MM, 2 groups, n=40), entire females only (FF, 2 groups, n=40) and entire males and females mixed together (MF, 4 groups, n=80). Measurements took place during the final six weeks before slaughter (between 63.5 and 105.5kg). Observations of mounting behaviour on 12 days per batch suggested that: (i) males mounted more than females, (ii) within sex, there was no effect of treatment on the amount of mounting (although the statistical power of the study to detect these effects was low), and (iii) there were individual differences in mounting that were stable over time (within sex). Classification of mounting into different categories revealed that sexual mounting was most common overall and in males but only rare in females. Compared to other types of mounting (e.g. caused by crowding or during a fight), sexual mounts lasted longer and provoked more screaming by the recipient. There were no relationships between mounting behaviour on the one hand and dominance rank in food competition tests, the circulating levels of sex hormones (oestradiol, testosterone and progesterone) at the end of the study, the health scores (lameness and scratches) or weight gain on the other hand. The stable individual differences of mounting over time suggest that mounting behaviour is a trait of the individual rather than the appearance of random outbreaks. However, these differences in mounting cannot be explained by dominance behaviour or by differences in sex hormone concentrations that could indicate the onset of puberty. Mounting behaviour and in particular sexual mounting provoked high pitched screaming of the recipients indicating that mounting is a welfare problem. For the welfare assessment of entire male pig production the performance of mounting behaviour should be considered.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 147
Issue 1
Pages 69-80
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2013.04.023
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Tags
  1. Animal reproduction
  2. Dominance
  3. puberty
  4. Sexual behavior
  5. welfare