Forming groups of aggressive sows based on a predictive test of aggression does not affect overall sow aggression or welfare
Verdon, M and Morrison, RS and Hemsworth, PH, Forming groups of aggressive sows based on a predictive test of aggression does not affect overall sow aggression or welfare, Behavioural Processes, 150 pp. 17-24. ISSN 0376-6357 (2018) [Refereed Article]
This experiment examined the effects of group composition on sow aggressive behaviour and welfare. Over 6 time replicates, 360 sows (parity 1–6) were mixed into groups (10 sows per pen, 1.8 m2/sow) composed of animals that were predicted to be aggressive (n = 18 pens) or groups composed of animals that were randomly selected (n = 18 pens). Predicted aggressive sows were selected based on a model-pig test that has been shown to be related to the aggressive behaviour of parity 2 sows when subsequently mixed in groups. Measurements were taken on aggression delivered post-mixing, and aggression delivered around feeding, fresh skin injuries and plasma cortisol concentrations at days 2 and 24 post-mixing. Live weight gain, litter size (born alive, total born, stillborn piglets), and farrowing rate were also recorded. Manipulating the group composition based on predicted sow aggressiveness had no effect (P > 0.05) on sow aggression delivered at mixing or around feeding, fresh injuries, cortisol, weight gain from day 2 to day 24, farrowing rate, or litter size. The lack of treatment effects in the present experiment could be attributed to (1) a failure of the model-pig test to predict aggression in older sows in groups, or (2) the dependence of the expression of the aggressive phenotype on factors such as social experience and characteristics (e.g., physical size and aggressive phenotype) of pen mates. This research draws attention to the intrinsic difficulties associated with predicting behaviour across contexts, particularly when the behaviour is highly dependent on interactions with conspecifics, and highlights the social complexities involved in the presentation of a behavioural phenotype.
aggression, group composition, model pig, sow, welfare