Behavioural and hormonal responses of pigs during transport: Effect of mixing and duration of journey


Two experiments investigated the welfare of pigs during transport. In experiment 1, 12 groups of four 90-kg pigs were transported to slaughter in a commercial livestock lorry for 1·5 h. Half the animals were transported in their social groups (unmixed condition) and half were transported with groups of previously unfamiliar pigs mixed together (mixed condition). Behaviour was recorded, a general activity index scored and saliva samples taken at different stages of the journey for analysis of cortisol. Pigs spent most of their time standing in both conditions. The journey was very rough (as revealed by characterization with an accelerometer) and in the unmixed condition the pigs appeared to stand to reduce travel sickness. In contrast, in the mixed condition, this preference for standing seemed to be due to fighting which stressed and exhausted the animals (the general activity index was three times the unmixed condition). Levels of salivary cortisol were higher in the mixed condition at the beginning, middle and end of the journey. In experiment 2, six 35-kg pigs, prepared in advance with jugular vein catheters, were loaded onto a commercial livestock lorry (09.30 h) where they were individually penned. The vehicle remained stationary with the engine off and blood samples were taken at 30-min intervals during the next 8 h (control). Two days later this procedure was repeated while the vehicle was driven for 8 h (on main roads and motorways). Plasma concentrations of cortisol and beta-endorphin increased markedly in both conditions immediately after loading. Cortisol levels were greater (relative to control) at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the journey. Concentrations of beta-endorphin did not differ between control and experimental conditions except during the final 180 min of the journey when the control levels were higher.