Villain, A. S., Lanthony, M., Guérin, C. et al. 2020. Manipulable object and human contact: Preference and modulation of emotional states in weaned pigs. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7, 577433.
Enriching the life of farm animals is a legal obligation in intensive farming conditions in the European Union, though not worldwide. In pigs, manipulable materials are mandatory when no bedding is available. Like manipulable objects, positive human interactions might also be considered as enrichment, as they provide the animals with opportunities to interact, increase their activity and lead to positive emotional states. In this study, we investigated how weaned pigs perceived an inanimate manipulable object and a familiar human. After a similar (in length, frequency, and procedure) familiarization to both stimuli, 24 weaned pigs were tested for a potential preference for one of the stimuli and submitted to isolation/reunion tests to evaluate the emotional value of the stimuli. We hypothesized that being reunited with a stimulus would attenuate the stress of social isolation and promote a positive state, especially if the stimulus had a positive emotional value for pigs. Although our behavioral data showed no evidence that pigs spent more time close to, or in contact with, one of the stimuli during a choice test, pigs more often approached the human and were observed lying down only near the human. Using behavioral and bioacoustic data from isolation/reunion tests, we showed that a reunion with the human decreased the time spent in an attentive state and mobility of pigs to a greater extent than a reunion with the object, or isolation. Vocalizations differed between reunions with the object and the human, and were different from those during isolation. The human and object presence led to higher frequency range and more noisy grunts, but only the human led to the production of positive shorter grunts, usually associated with positive situations. In conclusion, pigs seemed to be in a more positive emotional state, or be reassured, in the presence of a familiar human compared to the object after a short period of social isolation. This confirms the potential need for positive pseudo-social interactions with a human to enrich the pigs' environment, at least in or after potentially stressful situations.