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Jejunal morphology and blood metabolites in tail biting, victim and control pigs

  • P. A. Palander (a1), M. Heinonen (a1), I. Simpura (a2), S. A. Edwards (a3) and A. E. Valros (a1)...

Tail biting has several identified feeding-related risk factors. Tail biters are often said to be lighter and thinner than other pigs in the pen, possibly because of nutrition-related problems such as reduced feed intake or inability to use nutrients efficiently. This can lead to an increase in foraging behavior and tail biting. In this study, a total of 55 pigs of different ages were selected according to their tail-biting behavior (bouts/hour) and pen-feeding system to form eight experimental groups: tail-biting pigs (TB), victim pigs (V) and control pigs from a tail-biting pen (Ctb) and control pen (Cno) having either free access to feed with limited feeding space or meal feeding from a long trough. After euthanasia, a segment of jejunal cell wall was cut from 50 cm (S50) and 100 cm (S100) posterior to the bile duct. Villus height, crypt depth and villus : crypt ratio (V : C) were measured morphometrically. Blood serum concentration of minerals and plasma concentration of amino acids (AA) was determined. Villus height was greater in Cno than Ctb pigs in the proximal and mid-jejunum (P < 0.05), indicative of better ability to absorb nutrients, and increased with age in the proximal jejunum (P < 0.001). Serum mineral concentration of inorganic phosphate (Pi) and calcium (Ca) was lower in Ctb compared with Cno pigs, and that of Pi in V compared with all the other pigs. Many non-essential AA were lower in pigs from tail-biting pens, and particularly in victim pigs. Free access feeding with shared feeding space was associated with lower levels of essential AA in blood than meal feeding with simultaneous feeding space. Our data suggest that being a pig in a tail-biting pen is associated with decreased jejunal villus height and blood AA levels, possibly because of depressed absorption capacity, feeding behavior or environmental stress associated with tail biting. Victim pigs had lower concentrations of AA and Pi in plasma, possibly as a consequence of being bitten.

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