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Article

Effects of Positive Human Contact during Gestation on the Behaviour, Physiology and Reproductive Performance of Sows

1
The Animal Welfare Science Centre, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC 3010, Australia
2
Rivalea Australia Pty Ltd., Corowa, NSW 2646, Australia
3
Biometrics Team, Agriculture Victoria Research, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Hamilton, VIC 3300, Australia
4
Institute of Animal Welfare Science, University of Veterinary Medicine, 1210 Vienna, Austria
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2021, 11(1), 214; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010214
Received: 1 December 2020 / Accepted: 14 January 2021 / Published: 16 January 2021
(This article belongs to the Section Human-Animal Interactions, Animal Behaviour and Emotion)
Stress can compromise animal welfare and impact the productivity of farm animals. In intensive production systems where close interactions between stockpeople and animals occur regularly, human contact of a positive nature may facilitate stress resilience. This experiment studied the effects of human interaction on stress in pigs, by providing sows in their home pens with either regular positive handling by stockpeople or routine human contact. Stress resilience was studied by assessing the behaviour, physiology and productivity of pigs in these two treatments. Positive human contact was effective at reducing the fear responses of sows towards stockpeople conducting routine husbandry practices in the home pens. However, the positive handling treatment did not affect the behaviour of pigs towards other stressors imposed outside of the home pen, acute or basal physiological measures of stress or reproductive performance. Sows receiving positive handling showed reduced physical interaction with the stockpeople delivering the treatment over time, which may indicate habituation to the novel or possible rewarding elements of the human contact treatment. This work confirms that regular positive interaction with stockpeople does reduce the fear of sows to stockpeople, but does not always confer stress resilence.
Previous positive interactions with humans may ameliorate the stress response of farm animals to aversive routine practices such as painful or stressful procedures, particularly those associated with stockpeople. We studied the effects of positive handling by providing younger (parity 1–2) and older (parity 3–8) sows housed in pens of fifteen (n = 24 pens in total) with either positive human contact (+HC) or routine human contact (control) during gestation. The +HC treatment involved a familiar stockperson patting and scratching sows and was imposed at a pen-level for 2 min daily. Measurements studied included behavioural, physiological and productivity variables. The +HC sows showed reduced avoidance of the stockperson conducting pregnancy testing and vaccination in the home pens, however the behavioural and cortisol responses of sows in a standard unfamiliar human approach test did not differ. There were no effects of +HC on aggression between sows, serum cortisol or serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor concentrations during gestation, or on the behavioural and cortisol response to being moved to farrowing crates. There were also no effects of +HC on the maternal responsiveness of sows, farrowing rate or the number of piglets born alive, stillborn or weaned. Sows in the +HC pens reduced their physical interaction with the stockpeople imposing the treatment after 2 weeks, which suggests the sows may have habituated to the novel or possible rewarding elements of the handling treatment. This experiment shows that regular positive interaction with stockpeople does reduce sows’ fear of stockpeople, but does not always confer stress resilence. View Full-Text
Keywords: handling; positive human contact; stress; animal welfare; reproduction; sows handling; positive human contact; stress; animal welfare; reproduction; sows
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MDPI and ACS Style

Hayes, M.E.; Hemsworth, L.M.; Morrison, R.S.; Butler, K.L.; Rice, M.; Rault, J.-L.; Hemsworth, P.H. Effects of Positive Human Contact during Gestation on the Behaviour, Physiology and Reproductive Performance of Sows. Animals 2021, 11, 214. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010214

AMA Style

Hayes ME, Hemsworth LM, Morrison RS, Butler KL, Rice M, Rault J-L, Hemsworth PH. Effects of Positive Human Contact during Gestation on the Behaviour, Physiology and Reproductive Performance of Sows. Animals. 2021; 11(1):214. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010214

Chicago/Turabian Style

Hayes, Megan E.; Hemsworth, Lauren M.; Morrison, Rebecca S.; Butler, Kym L.; Rice, Maxine; Rault, Jean-Loup; Hemsworth, Paul H. 2021. "Effects of Positive Human Contact during Gestation on the Behaviour, Physiology and Reproductive Performance of Sows" Animals 11, no. 1: 214. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010214

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