Piglet processing involves routine procedures that are often criticized as causing pain, stress and decreasing animal well-being. However, there is little scientific information on the magnitude of this stress or if alternatives to the standard procedures improve piglet well-being. With growing public concern over the well-being of farm animals, attempts to learn more are underway.
Recent research has determined that processing techniques that can be carried out quickly and with minimal tissue damage is likely to be the least stressful for the piglet. For improving well-being during piglet processing, time is what matters most.
The research was conducted by Jeremy Marchant-Forde and colleagues at the USDA-ARS Livestock Behavior Research Unit and Purdue University.
The researchers compared alternative techniques such as teeth grinding, hot-iron tail-docking, ear tagging and oral dosing of iron to teeth clipping, cold tail-docking, ear notching and iron injecting. In most cases, the alternative techniques were found to be more stressful as indicated by higher cortisol levels, higher and more frequent vocalizations, and poorer growth rates. The one exception was that ear tagging did appear to improve piglet well-being over ear notching. Ear tagging resulted in less tissue damage and was done more quickly.
Ensuring that workers are well trained to carry out piglet processing procedures is a key component to minimizing the time required to perform procedures and improving the well-being of piglets.