Parois, S. P., Van Der Zande, L. E., Knol, E. F. et al. 2022. A multi-suckling system combined with an enriched housing environment during the growing period promotes resilience to various challenges in pigs. Scientific Reports 12(1), 6804.
Little is known about the impact of social and environmental enrichment on improving livestock resilience, i.e. the ability to quickly recover from perturbations. We evaluated the effect of an alternative housing system (AHS) on resilience of pigs, as compared to conventional housing (CONV). The AHS consisted of multi-litter housing during lactation, delayed weaning, extra space allowance and environmental enrichment at all times. We assessed recovery to a 2 h-transport challenge, an LPS injection, 2 h-heat stress and a biopsy wound in 96 pigs. Additionally, indicators of long-term “wear and tear” on the body were determined. AHS pigs had better physiological recoveries with quicker returns to baseline in the transport and LPS challenges, showed lower cortisol accumulation in hairs and lower variance in weight gain over the experimental period compared to conventionally-housed (CONV) pigs. They also had higher levels of natural antibodies binding KLH than CONV pigs. Their response to heat stress revealed a different strategy compared to CONV pigs. Taken together, AHS pigs appear to be more resilient and experience less chronic stress. Enhancing welfare by provision of social and environmental enrichment that better meets the behavioural needs of pigs seems to be a promising approach to improve their resilience.