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Reducing/adjusting painful management practices in piglets: an attempt to improve animal welfare and zootechnical results

In the pig industry, farmers always strive for optimal productions results. In order to obtain these results, they carry out several managementpractices on piglets like tail docking (to avoid tail biting; routinelyprohibited), teeth shortening (to avoid wounding to the udder of the sow or to litter mates; routinely prohibited), castration of male piglets (to avoid boar taint), All these procedures are however considered to be painful and therefore can also influence animal welfare and zootechnical results of the piglets. The aim of this thesis was to study the effects of reducing or adjusting these painful management practices on pigletwelfare and zootechnical results.</>
In the society of today, animal welfare is gaining consumers interest and concern. Pigletcastration is a sensitive issue that has drawn the attention of the public as a result of animal welfare organizations campaigns. Therefore itis important to know consumers opinion on this topic. For that reason the opinion of Flemish consumers on unanesthetized piglet castration, and three possible alternatives is reported in the second chapter. A totalof 2018 people, spread over the 5 provinces, were questioned. The results showed that in spite of several media campaigns of animal welfare organizations over the past few years, still about half of the Flemish respondents were not aware of the problem of unanesthetized piglet castration. However, after being informed, the majority wanted unanesthetized castration to be banned. Although the concern about animal welfare implications was very high, the willingness to pay extra for alternatives was low, which might prevent the return of investment for the farmers since production costs will increase.</>
Results of the second chapter demonstrated that castration under anesthesia was the most accepted alternative by Flemish consumers. Therefore castration under carbon dioxide (CO2) anesthesia was compared to unanesthetized castration in thethird chapter. No behavioral differences were found in piglets treated with CO2-anesthesia or zolazepam, tiletamine (Zoletil®) and xylazine (Xyl-M®), which is an indication that CO2 matches the anesthetic propertiesof the combination of Zoletil® and Xyl-M®. In the main experiment, observed differences in behavior were not conclusive. However, a difference in interactive behavior indicated a better state of welfare for the CO2-anesthetized castrated piglets compared to the unanesthetized castrated piglets. On the other hand, all barrows, including the anesthetized group, displayed behaviors indicative of pain or discomfort. Therefore, piglets may need to be provided with additional analgesia to eliminate the pain caused by castration even if they are anesthetized prior to castration.</>
Castration is not the only event that may threaten piglets welfare. As mentioned before, piglets are subjected to several painful management practices, especially during their first week of life. In order to improve overall welfare, not only castration has to be dealt with, but painful management procedures in general. In the fourth chapter it was therefore investigated if reducing painful interventions during the first week of life resulted in better zootechnical performanceof the piglets, reduced piglet mortality and if the overall welfare, indicated by behavioral criteria, was improved. In 22 litters, all pigletswere weighed after birth. The four lightest piglets of each litter of the experimental group were not subjected to tail docking or teeth shortening, the other procedures (castration for the male piglets, iron injection, vaccination, ear tagging) were carried out as normal. The four lightest piglets of each litter of the control group did have their tails docked and teeth shortened, next to the other management procedures. All procedures were applied on the heavier piglets of both the control and the experimental group.</>
The lightest piglets seemed to show less pain related behavior when their teeth and tail were left intact. Moreover,mortality rate tended to be lower when compared with the lightest piglets of the control group but further research specified on neonatal mortality would be useful.</>
The objectives of the previous two chapters, reducing painful procedures and using anesthesia during these procedures, were combined in the fifth chapter. Two experiments, using 41 litters, were carried out. In the first experiment, all procedureswere performed on one moment in time in the experimental group while inthe control group procedures were carried out as normal (spread over the first week of life). In the second experiment, bundling of the procedures without anesthesia was compared to bundling the procedures after theanimals were anesthetized with CO2. </>Piglets seemed to cope better with pain if painful interventions were not combined. Moreover, the applied CO2-</>anesthesia</> had facilitated the pain experience after treatment, since lying, interactive and walking </>behavior</> indicated more discomfort for the anesthetized piglets. Anesthetized piglets had only anadvantage when considering nursing </>behavior</>. Although the beneficial effect of </>anesthesia</> during painful procedures is not really confirmed by the results, these results should be interpreted as a delayed pain experience for anesthetized piglets rather than an additional pain experience. As already found in chapter one CO2-anesthesia relieves the pain during the procedure, but not after the anesthesia has wore of.The post-operative pain may have been present in both treatments, but the absent pain experience during the procedures for piglets of the anesthetized group can still be interpreted as advantageous to piglet welfare. </></>
The results of this thesis showed that public awareness on piglet castration was still low. On the other hand, when respondents were informed, they felt the need for alternatives was high. Castration under anesthesia was the most accepted alternative but willingness to pay an extra price to improve piglet welfare was low. Reducing painful procedures (tail docking and teeth clipping) improved animal welfare and survival rate to a certain extent. Adjusting the painful procedures by using CO2-anesthesia and/or bundling all procedures on one moment in time did not give clear results. Bundling of the procedures without anesthesia did not seem to benefit the piglets. Anesthesia with CO2 provides anesthesia and analgesia on the moment of the procedure, which improves animal welfare, but it wears off quickly resulting in postoperative pain. Further research could be useful to optimize the procedure, e.g. by providing additional analgesia for the postoperative pain. </>
Date:1 Oct 2008  →  19 Apr 2012
Disciplines:Agricultural animal production, Agricultural plant production, Agriculture, land and farm management, Other agriculture, forestry, fisheries and allied sciences, Other chemical sciences, Nutrition and dietetics , Food sciences and (bio)technology
Project type:PhD project