The influence of neonatal environment on piglet play behaviour and post-weaning social and cognitive development

JE Martin, SH Ison, EM Baxter

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68 Citations (Scopus)
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Research has shown that the domestic pig is highly playful throughout its development andthat play is an important aspect of social and cognitive development. Therefore, the neona-tal environment is fundamental to successful stimulation of play in neonatal pigs, whichcould have indirect and direct socio-cognitive effects on pigs post-weaning and thereforeinfluence social interactions known to cause welfare concerns (e.g. aggression during mix-ing). This study investigated how play pre- and post-weaning developed in two neonatalenvironments (NE); the conventional farrowing crate (NEC) and a more environmentallycomplex alternative PigSAFE pen (NEP) and to discover whether this had an effect on piglet’cognitive abilities in spontaneous object recognition tests for two retention times (15 and60 min) post-weaning. Hourly focal sampling was used to record play behaviours pre- andpost-weaning in 72 piglets of mixed sex (36 per NE) from a total population of 117 pigletsfrom 12 litters. Out of the 72 piglets, 24 were used in the cognitive spontaneous objectrecognition tests five weeks post-weaning. Linear mixed models showed that NEP pigletsdisplayed play behaviours quicker after birth than NEC piglets: locomotor (F = 7.62(1, 11),P = 0.020); sow interaction (F = 5.27(1, 11), P = 0.045); and social interaction (F = 23.61(1, 11),P < 0.001). NEP piglets played more pre-weaning than NEC piglets (F = 5.06(1, 71), P = 0.051)and despite initial higher levels of aggression at weaning, displayed less chronic aggres-sion post-weaning as indicated by lesion scores of all piglets (F = 27.05(1, 116), P < 0.001). NEwas shown to have a significant effect on the 15 min cognitive retention test; with NEPpiglets spending more time interacting with the novel object than the familiar, comparedto NEC piglets (F = 5.39(1, 23), P = 0.045). There was no NE effect for the 60 min retention test.It was concluded that play is fundamental to successful socio-cognitive development (e.g.aggressive conflicts) and relates to play function theories of training for the unexpected. Itseffect on play behaviours are short-term and highly dependent on present environmentalstimulus, suggesting that any long-term benefits play may have on an animal’s welfare canonly be achieved by regular stimulation throughout its life (e.g. constant enrichment).© 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69 - 79
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Publication statusPrint publication - 2014

Bibliographical note



  • Alternative housing
  • Enrichment
  • Farrowing
  • Play


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