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Testing post-weaning food motivation in low and normal birth weight pigs in a runway and operant conditioning task

By L. M. van Eck, A. Antonides, R. E. Nordquist, F. J. van der Staay

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Abstract

Low birth weight (LBW) pigs face more welfare challenges than their normal birth weight (NBW) siblings. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of cognitive and learning abilities in these pigs may help to improve their welfare. Early competition in life over resources, combined with the higher need for nutrient intake, make it likely that LBW pigs have a higher motivation for food than NBW pigs. This study aimed to compare the motivation to obtain food rewards between LBW and NBW pigs, using variable numbers of rewards in two separate tasks; a runway and an operant conditioning task (the nose wheel task). Ten pairs of littermates were used. From each litter, one low birth weight piglet (mean birth weight±SEM: 854±33g) and one normal birth weight piglet (1332±53g) was selected. Pigs were tested in the runway task at 12 weeks of age and the operant nose wheel task at 19 weeks of age. Both tasks consisted of a baseline phase (two rewards), a high reward phase (eight rewards) and an extinction phase (no rewards). Statistical analyses using mixed models showed that NBW animals left the start box faster than LBW animals in the high reward phase in the runway task. However, their run time in this phase was not shorter and no other birth weight effects were found in any other phase or measure in this task nor in the nose wheel task. All animals decreased their run time in the runway task between the baseline phase and high reward phase, and increased their run time in the extinction phase (p

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 181
Pages 83-90
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.05.010
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Tags
  1. Birth
  2. motivation
  3. operant conditioning
  4. Pigs