Evidence for litter differences in play behaviour in pre-weaned pigs

SM Brown, M Klaffenbock, IM Nevison, AB Lawrence

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The aim of this study was to analyse spontaneous play behaviour in litters of domestic pigs (Sus scrofa)for sources of variation at individual and litter levels and to relate variation in play to measures of preand postnatal development. Seven litters of commercially bred piglets (n = 70) were born (farrowed)within a penning system (PigSAFE) that provided opportunities for the performance of spontaneousplay behaviours. Individual behaviour was scored based on an established play ethogram for 2 days perweek over the 3 week study period. We found strong evidence of litter differences in play behaviour(F(6,63)= 27.30, p < 0.001). Of the variance in total play, 50% was attributable to differences between litterswith a lesser proportion (11%) to between piglets within litters. We found similar evidence of litter dif-ferences when we analysed the separate play categories (e.g. for locomotor play: F(6,63)= 27.50, p < 0.001).For social and locomotor play the variance was partitioned in a broadly similar way to total play; howeverfor object play the variance was distributed with a more even balance across and within litters. In termsof explanatory factors we found little evidence that at the litter level differences in play were associatedwith differences in general activity. Of the prenatal factors measured, we found that birth weight was pos-itively associated with total play and the play categories (e.g. with total play: F(1,64)= 12.8, p < 0.001). Wealso found that postnatal piglet growth up to weaning (as a percentage of birth weight) had a significantpositive association with total play and the play categories (e.g. with object play: F(1,66)= 20.55, p < 0.001).As found in other studies, on average males engaged in more social play (e.g. non-injurious play fight-ing: F(1,63)= 39.8, p < 0.001). Males also initiated more play bouts on average than females (F(1,62)= 4.41,p = 0.040). We conclude that the study of differences between litters and individuals provides a robustapproach to understanding factors potentially influencing play behaviour in the pig. This work also pro-vides support for the use of play as a welfare indicator in pre-weaned piglets as the litter differences inplay we observed were associated positively with physical development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17 - 25
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Publication statusFirst published - 2015

Bibliographical note



  • Growth development
  • Individual differences
  • Litter differences
  • Pig
  • Post-natal
  • Pre-natal
  • Sex effects
  • Spontaneous play behaviour


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