In piglets in indoor housing systems does pre-weaning socialisation with non-littermates compared to no pre-weaning socialisation with non-littermates result in lower weaning stress when regrouped with unfamiliar piglets post-weaning?
Clinical bottom line
Category of research question
The number and type of study designs reviewed
Nine papers were critically reviewed. All of them were controlled trials, of which two were randomised control trials.
Strength of evidence
In terms of behavioural indicators of weaning stress, piglets socialised with non-littermates during lactation showed less aggressive behaviours (in the six papers that investigated aggression) and fewer skin lesions (in the six out of seven papers that investigated skin lesions) than non-socialised piglets when regrouped with unfamiliar piglets post-weaning. One of two papers showed that the cortisol level of socialised piglets had a smaller increase from pre-weaning to post-weaning level than non-socialised piglets. Four out of five papers that investigated average daily weight gain (ADG) found that the difference between socialised and non-socialised piglets in ADG was insignificant.
Based on behavioural indicators, there was strong evidence suggesting that pre-weaning socialisation with non-littermates could reduce aggression and skin lesions when regrouped with unfamiliar piglets post-weaning. However, due to the weak evidence for the physiological indicator and growth performance, the effect of pre-weaning socialisation on weaning stress was inconclusive.
The application of evidence into practice should take into account multiple factors, not limited to: individual clinical expertise, patient’s circumstances and owners’ values, country, location or clinic where you work, the individual case in front of you, the availability of therapies and resources.
Knowledge Summaries are a resource to help reinforce or inform decision making. They do not override the responsibility or judgement of the practitioner to do what is best for the animal in their care.
Andersen, I. L., Nævdal, E., Bakken, M. & Bøe, K. E. (2004). Aggression and group size in domesticated pigs, Sus scrofa: ‘when the winner takes it all and the loser is standing small’. Animal Behaviour. 68(4), 965–975. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2003.12.016
Baxter, E. M., Lawrence, A. B. & Edwards, S. A. (2012). Alternative farrowing accommodation: welfare and economic aspects of existing farrowing and lactation systems for pigs. Animal. 6(1), 96–117. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731111001224
Blavi, L., Solà-Oriol, D., Llonch, P., López-Vergé, S., Martín-Orúe, S. M. & Pérez, J. F. (2021). Management and Feeding Strategies in Early Life to Increase Piglet Performance and Welfare around Weaning: A Review. Animals. 11(2), 302. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11020302
Camerlink, I., Farish, M., D'Eath, R. B., Arnott, G. & Turner, S. P. (2018). Long Term Benefits on Social Behaviour After Early Life Socialization of Piglets. Animals. 8(11), 192. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ani8110192
Campbell, J. M., Crenshaw, J. D. & Polo, J. (2013). The biological stress of early weaned piglets. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology. 4(19), 1–4. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/2049-1891-4-19
D'Eath, R. B. (2005). Socialising piglets before weaning improves social hierarchy formation when pigs are mixed post-weaning. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 93(3-4), 199–211. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2004.11.019
De Coninck, A., Draye, J-P., Van Strubarq, A., Vanpée, E., Kaufman, L., Delaey, B., Verbeken, G. & Roseeuw, D. (1996). Healing of full-thickness wounds in pigs: effects of occlusive and non-occlusive dressings associated with a gel vehicle. Journal of Dermatological Science. 13(3), 202–211. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0923-1811(96)00536-1
Dybkjær, L. (1992). The identification of behavioural indicators of ‘stress’ in early weaned piglets. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 35(2), 135–147. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0168-1591(92)90004-U
Fels, M., Schrey, L., Rauterberg, S. & Kemper, N. (2021). Early socialisation in group lactation system reduces post-weaning aggression in piglets. Veterinary Record. 189(12), e830. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/vetr.830
Foster, A. P. (2012). Staphylococcal skin disease in livestock. Veterinary Dermatology. 23(4), 342–e63. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-3164.2012.01093.x
Gallagher, N. L., Giles, L. R. & Wynn, P. C. (2002). The Development of a Circadian Pattern of Salivary Cortisol Secretion in the Neonatal Piglet. Biology of the Neonate. 81(2), 113–118. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1159/000047195
Jensen, P. (1986). Observations on the maternal behaviour of free-ranging domestic pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 16(2), 131–142. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0168-1591(86)90105-X
Ji, W., Bi, Y., Cheng, Z., Liu, R., Zhang, X., Shu, Y., Li, X., Bao, J. & Liu, H. (2021). Impact of early socialization environment on social behavior, physiology and growth performance of weaned piglets. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 238, 105314. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2021.105314
Kanaan, V. T., Lay, D. C., Jr., Richert, B. T. & Pajor, E. A. (2012). Increasing the Frequency of Co-mingling Piglets During the Lactation Period Alters the Development of Social Behavior Before and After Weaning. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. 15(2), 163–180. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10888705.2012.658333
Kutzer, T., Bünger, B., Kjaer, J. B. & Schrader, L. (2009). Effects of early contact between non-littermate piglets and of the complexity of farrowing conditions on social behaviour and weight gain. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 121(1), 16–24. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2009.08.004
Meese, G. B. & Ewbank, R. (1973). The establishment and nature of the dominance hierarchy in the domesticated pig. Animal Behaviour. 21(2), 326–334. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0003-3472(73)80074-0
Mormède, P., Andanson, S., Aupérin, B., Beerda, B., Guémené, D., Malmkvist, J., Manteca, X., Manteuffel, G., Prunet, P., van Reenen, C. G., Richard, S. & Veissier, I. (2007). Exploration of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal function as a tool to evaluate animal welfare. Physiology & Behavior. 92(3), 317–339. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.12.003
O'Connell, N. E., Beattie, V. E. & Watt, D. (2005). Influence of regrouping strategy on performance, behaviour and carcass parameters in pigs. Livestock Production Science. 97(2), 107–115. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.livprodsci.2005.03.005
O'Connell, N. E., Beattie, V. E. & Weatherup, R. N. (2004). Influence of group size during the post-weaning period on the performance and behaviour of pigs. Livestock Production Science. 86(1), 225–232. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.livprodsci.2003.07.001
Salazar, L. C., Ko, H.-L., Yang, C.-H., Llonch, L., Manteca, X., Camerlink, I. & Llonch, P. (2018). Early socialisation as a strategy to increase piglets' social skills in intensive farming conditions. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 206, 25–31. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2018.05.033
Schrey, L., Kemper, N. & Fels, M. (2019). Behaviour and Skin Injuries of Piglets Originating from a Novel Group Farrowing System Before and After Weaning. Agriculture. 9(5), 93. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture9050093
Singer, A. J. & McClain, S. A. (2003). Development of a Porcine Excisional Wound Model. Academic Emergency Medicine. 10(10), 1029–1033. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1197/S1069-6563(03)00339-7
Stukenborg, A., Traulsen, I., Puppe, B., Presuhn, U. & Krieter, J. (2011). Agonistic behaviour after mixing in pigs under commercial farm conditions. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 129(1), 28–35. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2010.10.004
Tang, X., Xiong, K., Fang, R. & Li, M. (2022). Weaning stress and intestinal health of piglets: A review. Frontiers in Immunology. 13, 1042778–1042778. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2022.1042778
Thorslund, C. A. H., Aaslyng, M. D. & Lassen, J. (2017). Perceived importance and responsibility for market-driven pig welfare: Literature review. Meat Science. 125, 37–45. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meatsci.2016.11.008
Tong, X., Shen, C., Chen, R., Gao, S., Liu, X., Schinckel, A. P. & Zhou, B. (2019). Reestablishment of Social Hierarchies in Weaned Pigs After Mixing. Animals. 10(1), 36. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010036
van Nieuwamerongen, S. E., Soede, N. M., van der Peet-Schwering, C. M. C., Kemp, B. & Bolhuis, J. E. (2015). Development of piglets raised in a new multi-litter housing system vs. conventional single-litter housing until 9 weeks of age. Journal of Animal Science. 93(11), 5442–5454. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2015-9460
van Putten, G. & Buré, R. G. (1997). Preparing gilts for group housing by increasing their social skills. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 54(2), 173–183. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(97)00063-4
Verdon, M., Morrison, R. S. & Hemsworth, P. H. (2016). Rearing piglets in multi-litter group lactation systems: Effects on piglet aggression and injuries post-weaning. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 183, 35–41. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.05.008
Verdon, M., Morrison, R. S. & Rault, J. L. (2019). Group lactation from 7 or 14 days of age reduces piglet aggression at weaning compared to farrowing crate housing. Animal. 13(10), 2327–2335. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/s1751731119000478
Weary, D. M., Pajor, E. A., Bonenfant, M., Ross, S. K., Fraser, D. & Kramer, D. L. (1999). Alternative housing for sows and litters: 2. Effects of a communal piglet area on pre- and post-weaning behaviour and performance. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 65(2), 123–135. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/s0168-1591(99)00053-2
Copyright (c) 2023 Dongyue Du, Jenny-Ann Toribio
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Veterinary Evidence uses the Creative Commons copyright Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. That means users are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format. Remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially - with the appropriate citation.