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Does group size have an impact on welfare indicators in fattening pigs?

By S. E. K. Meyer-Hamme, C. Lambertz, M. Gauly

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Category Journal Articles

Production systems for fattening pigs have been characterized over the last 2 decades by rising farm sizes coupled with increasing group sizes. These developments resulted in a serious public discussion regarding animal welfare and health in these intensive production systems. Even though large farm and group sizes came under severe criticism, it is still unknown whether these factors indeed negatively affect animal welfare. Therefore, the aim of this study was to assess the effect of group size (<15 v. 15 to 30 v. >30 pigs/pen) on various animal-based measures of the Welfare Quality® protocol for growing pigs under conventional fattening conditions. A total of 60 conventional pig fattening farms with different group sizes in Germany were included. Moderate bursitis (35%) was found as the most prevalent indicator of welfare-related problems, while its prevalence increased with age during the fattening period. However, differences between group sizes were not detected (P>0.05). The prevalence of moderately soiled bodies increased from 9.7% at the start to 14.2% at the end of the fattening period, whereas large pens showed a higher prevalence (15.8%) than small pens (10.4%; P<0.05). With increasing group size, the incidence of moderate wounds with 8.5% and 11.3% in small- and medium-sized pens, respectively, was lower (P<0.05) than in large-sized ones (16.3%). Contrary to bursitis and dirtiness, its prevalence decreased during the fattening period. Moderate manure was less often found in pigs fed by a dry feeder than in those fed by a liquid feeding system (P<0.05). The human–animal relationship was improved in large in comparison to small groups. On the contrary, negative social behaviour was found more often in large groups. Exploration of enrichment material decreased with increasing live weight. Given that all animals were tail-docked, tail biting was observed at a very low rate of 1.9%. In conclusion, the results indicate that BW and feeding system are determining factors for the welfare status, while group size was not proved to affect the welfare level under the studied conditions of pig fattening.

Date 2016
Publication Title Animal
Volume 10
Issue 1
Pages 142-149
ISBN/ISSN 1751-7311
Publisher Elsevier
DOI 10.1017/s1751731115001779
Author Address Department of Animal Sciences, Georg-August-University, Albrecht-Thaer-Weg 3, 37075 Gottingen, Germany.Christian.Lambertz@unibz.it
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal nutrition
  4. Animals
  5. Animal science
  6. Animal wastes
  7. Animal welfare
  8. Behavioral research
  9. Bursitis
  10. Chemicals
  11. Developed countries
  12. Diseases and injuries of animals
  13. Ecology
  14. Effect
  15. Enrichment
  16. Europe
  17. Feeding
  18. Fertilizers
  19. Finishing
  20. Germany
  21. Group size
  22. Health
  23. Human behavior
  24. Humans
  25. Incidence
  26. Indicators
  27. Mammals
  28. Manures
  29. Meat animals
  30. Men
  31. Nutrition
  32. nutrition programs
  33. OECD countries
  34. open access
  35. pens
  36. Pigs
  37. Primates
  38. Psychiatry and psychology
  39. Relationships
  40. Social behavior
  41. Social psychology and social anthropology
  42. Suiformes
  43. ungulates
  44. vertebrates
  45. Veterinary sciences
  46. welfare
  47. Wounds and injuries
  48. Zoology
  1. open access