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Effect of age on the behavioral and physiological responses of piglets to tail docking and ear notching.

Torrey, S., Devillers, N., Lessard, M., Farmer, C., Widowski, T. (2009). Effect of age on the behavioral and physiological responses of piglets to tail docking and ear notching., 87(5), 1778-1786.


Neonatal piglets are often subject to potentially painful processing procedures such as tail docking and ear notching during the first few days after birth. However, these procedures may influence the development of suckling behavior and passive transfer of immunoglobulins, especially if done within the first day postpartum. The objective of this experiment was to compare the effects of processing piglets during the first 24 h versus at 3 d of age on suckling and pain-related behavior, the passive transfer of immunoglobulins, and growth. Six piglets per litter from 20 litters (n = 120 piglets) were used in a 3 x 2 complete block design. Piglets were weighed at birth and assigned to 1 of 3 treatments (balanced by birth weight): control (unmanipulated), sham processed (manually manipulated), and processed (tail docked and ear notched) at 1 of 2 ages (1 or 3 d of age). Vocalizations were recorded during the procedures, and piglets were observed after the procedures for pain-related behavior. Suckling behavior was observed for 6 h on each of d 1 to 4. Colostrum samples were collected after the birth of all piglets (before first suck), and blood samples were collected on d 5 to examine concentrations of immunoglobulins (IgA and IgG) and IGF-I. Body weights were measured at birth and on d 5 and 14. During the procedures, processed piglets, regardless of age, vocalized at a greater frequency (P < 0.001) and produced more high frequency calls (P = 0.016) than sham-processed piglets. All piglets on d 1 produced more high frequency calls than all piglets on d 3 (P = 0.047). Immediately after the procedures, sham-processed and processed piglets spent less time lying and more time standing than control piglets (P < 0.001), whereas processed piglets jammed their tail between their legs more than sham-processed or control piglets (P < 0.001). Lying, standing and tail posture were not influenced by age, nor were there age by treatment interactions. Piglets on d 1 trembled more than piglets on d 3 (P < 0.001), and this tended to be exacerbated by processing (P = 0.076). There was no effect of treatment or age of treatment on suckling behavior. Processed piglets had decreased IgG serum concentrations compared with sham-processed and control piglets (P = 0.029), although there was no interaction between treatment and age of treatment (P = 0.67). Whereas tail docking and ear notching do appear to result in short-term pain and modulated immune status, processing on d 1 appears neither better nor worse than processing on d 3.

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