Providing enrichment to alleviate pain due to castration and tail docking in pigs

Evaluating environmental enrichment as a method to alleviate pain after castration and tail docking in pigs. By Brittany L. Backus, John J. McGlone, 2018. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 204: 37-42.


• Enrichment did not mitigate pain associated with management procedures.

• Enrichment had a positive effect on growth, activity and immunity.

• Enrichment improved pig welfare even if it did not mitigate piglet processing pain.

Abstract Castration and tail docking are common management practices performed on commercial swine farms in the US and around the world to reduce adverse behaviors and the occurrence of boar taint. However, these practices themselves are a welfare concern for the piglet because they cause acute pain. The provisions of environmental enrichment (EE) may reduce anxiety, protect from stressors, influence pain sensitivity, and improve the overall welfare of animals. Our objective was to determine if EE can reduce the physiological and behavioral stress response caused by castration and tail docking in piglets over time. Sows were randomly assigned to control farrowing stalls (CON; n = 9) or stalls enriched (ENRICH; n = 9) with newspaper, soil, ball and rope, so that EE was available to piglets upon birth. At 5 days old, ENRICH and CON piglets (n = 54 per treatment) were allocated to one of six piglet husbandry treatments; four boar piglets were randomly allocated to one of four treatments: 1) control handled (SHAM B), 2) tail docked (TAIL B), 3) castrated (CAST), or 4) castrated and tail docked (BOTH); and two gilt piglets were randomly allocated to one of two treatments: 5) control handled (SHAM G), or 6) tail docked (TAIL G). Live weight tended (P < 0.10) to be greater in all ENRICH pigs. Leukocytes and the neutrophil to lymphocyte ratio were decreased (P < 0.05) among ENRICH compared with CON piglets. ENRICH piglets were more active (P < 0.05) than CON piglets. Maintenance and play behaviors decreased (P < 0.05) 120 min after, but returned to baseline at 24 h. Cortisol was greater (P < 0.05) among CAST and BOTH piglets, but no differences were observed in cortisol concentrations between housing groups. Stress vocalizations were greater (P < 0.05) in CAST and BOTH compared with SHAM piglets, while all pig processing treatments displayed more (P < 0.05) pain behaviors than SHAM. The use of EE had no effect on reducing pain-induced stress of castration and tail docking. However, we found that pigs raised with EE were heavier and more active than pigs raised without enrichment. We also found that EE modulated the immune response in pigs. In conclusion, EE improved the overall welfare of pigs at an early age.