April 2021

Two-level systems may reduce aggressive behaviour and social stress in pigs.

Environmental enrichment, adequate space and the ability to separate a living area into suitable functional areas are key elements for pig welfare. In this study, a two-level pen for nursery pigs was explored with the aim of analysing the use of space and the impact on pig behaviour, health and performance. Therefore, per batch, three experimental groups in pens with elevated platforms (two-level pens) and one control group in a standard pen were formed after weaning at the age of 4 weeks. Thereafter, groups were studied for a period of 6 weeks. In a total of eight batches (n = 882 pigs), the occurrence of skin lesions was determined per individual using a lesion score, and in seven batches (n = 761 pigs) individual daily weight gain was analysed. In five batches (n = 450 pigs), the individual use of space and the behaviour of pigs were investigated by direct observation (4 h per day on 2 days in weeks 1, 3 and 6 of the housing period, respectively).

Results revealed that 98.9% of pigs (n = 445) were observed on the elevated platform at least once. The probability that an individual pig used the platform was significantly higher than 0.95. The use of the platform was not affected by sex. However, the probability of observing an individual on the elevated platform increased with increasing BW during the experimental period. The presence of a platform decreased the probability of seeing a pig fighting and increased the probability of observing locomotor behaviour as opposed to lying. In two-level pens, pigs sustained fewer skin injuries than in standard pens. Over 41 days of experiment, pigs in two-level pens had higher daily weight gains than animals in standard pens (416 versus 393 g/day).

We conclude that usable space for nursery pigs can be effectively extended by introducing elevated platforms into the pigs’ pen. Furthermore, pigs may benefit from two-level systems by establishing spaces for activity as well as for retreat from other pen mates, thereby reducing aggressive behaviour and social stress. The installation of two-level pens is therefore encouraged, if they are intended to provide more space than legally stipulated.

Laves J, Herbrandt S, van Meegen C, Kemper N, Fels M.
Effect of pens with an elevated platform on space utilization, skin lesions and growth performance in nursery pigs.
Animal. 2021; 15(1): 100002. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.animal.2020.100002