Nine hundred and sixty weaned pigs were exposed for 5·5 weeks to controlled concentrations of airborne dust and ammonia in a single, multi-factorial experiment. Production and health responses were measured but only the former are reported here. The treatments were a dust concentration of either 1·2, 2·7, 5·1 or 9·9 mg/m3 (inhalable fraction) and an ammonia concentration of either 0·6, 10·0, 18·8 or 37·0 p. p. m., which are representative of commercial conditions. The experiment was carried out over 2·5 years and pigs were used in eight batches, each comprising five lots of 24 pigs. Each treatment combination was replicated once and an additional control lot (nominally ≈ 0 mg/m3 dust and ≈ 0 p. p. m. ammonia) was included in each batch to provide a baseline. The dust concentration was common across the other four lots in each batch in which all four ammonia concentrations were used; thus the split-plot design was more sensitive to the effects of ammonia than dust.
The pigs were kept separately in five rooms in a purpose-built facility. The pollutants were injected continuously into the air supply. Ammonia was supplied from a pressurized cylinder and its concentration was measured with an NOx chemiluminescent gas analyser after catalytic conversion. The endogenous dust in each room was supplemented by an artificial dust, which was manufactured from food, barley straw and faeces, mixed by weight in the proportions 0·5: 0·1: 0·4. The ingredients were oven-dried, milled and mixed and this artificial dust was then resuspended in the supply air. Dust concentration was monitored continuously with a tribo-electric sensor and measured continually with an aerodynamic particle sizer and gravimetric samplers.
Live weight per pig and cumulative food intake per pen of 12 pigs were measured after 5·5 weeks of exposure. Exposure to both aerial pollutants depressed live weight relative to the control (control v. pollutant, 25·7 v. 25·0 (s.e.d. = 0·33) kg, P = 0·043) and there was a trend for food intake to be lower for pollutant-exposed pigs (control v. pollutant 292 v. 280 (s.e.d. = 7·1) kg per pen, P = 0·124). The reduction in live weight and food intake was dependent upon the concentration of dust (mean across all ammonia concentrations for increasing dust concentration; live weight 25·3, 26·4, 24·0 and 24·5 (s.e.d. = 0·65) kg, P = 0·081; food intake 295, 316, 248 and 263 (s.e.d. = 14·3) kg per pen, P = 0·016) but not ammonia (mean across all dust concentrations for increasing ammonia concentration; live weight 24·4, 25·1, 25·3 and 25·3 (s.e.d. = 0·41) kg, P = 0·158; food intake 279, 275, 288 and 279 kg (s.e.d. = 9·0) kg per pen, P = 0·520). There was an interaction between dust and ammonia for live weight (P = 0·030) but the effects were complicated and may have been the result of a type I error. There was no interaction for food intake (P = 0·210). In general, both food intake and live-weight gain, but not food conversion efficiency, were lower for weaned pigs exposed to 5·1 and 9·9 mg/m3 dust concentrations compared with 1·2 and 2·7 mg/m3 treatments. Other measures of production were also analysed and supported the overall interpretation that dust concentrations of 5·1 mg/m3 and higher depress performance.
This study is the first to quantify the effects of chronic exposure to common aerial pollutants on the performance of weaned pigs. The results suggest that dust concentrations of 5·1 or 9·9 mg/m3 (inhalable fraction) across ammonia concentrations up to 37 p.p.m. adversely affect performance. The commercial significance of these findings depends on the financial benefits of the superior production at low dust concentrations relative to the cost of providing air of this quality.