Pigs’ aggressive temperament affects pre-slaughter mixing aggression, stress and meat quality.
Animal. 2009-11-16; 4(4): 604-616
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Pre-slaughter stress has a negative impact on animal welfare and on meat quality. Aggressive behaviour when pigs are mixed together for transportation to, or on arrival at, the abattoir is an important factor in pre-slaughter stress. Aggressiveness of pigs varies between individuals in the population, and this study investigated its effects on stress and meat quality at slaughter. We mixed pigs at a young age to identify individuals of high (H) or low (L) aggressive temperament using the previously validated approach of lesion scoring. To contrast extremes of social stress single-sex groups of eight pigs were mixed according to their aggressiveness in HH, HL or LL combinations or left unmixed (U) prior to transport and slaughter (n = 271). Each treatment was replicated in at least two groups in each of four slaughter batches. Mixing per se had little effect, but mixed groups composed of aggressive pigs (HH) had more carcass skin lesions and higher levels of plasma cortisol at slaughter and had loin muscle samples with higher pH at 24 h, and lower redness (a*) and yellowness (b*) compared to the other treatments. Females had higher levels of plasma cortisol at slaughter, a more rapid decline in pH post-slaughter and greater lean content of meat. Lactate and creatine kinase (CK) levels and meat pH were affected by the interaction of sex and treatment. Genetic factors, dam and sire line composition, and halothane locus (ryanodine receptor 1, RYR1) genotype, also affected a number of production and meat quality parameters as expected. Additionally, ‘commercially normal’ levels of social stress were studied in four further slaughter batches with no manipulation of group composition (n = 313). In these pigs, the proportion of unfamiliar pigs and group size of lairage groups explained limited variation in lesion scores at slaughter, but earlier aggressiveness did not. High numbers of skin lesions on the carcass were associated with high levels of cortisol and lactate and low glucose at slaughter, but not with meat quality measures. When stress and meat quality measures were compared for all pigs, high lactate was associated with low early pH and high drip loss, while high cortisol and CK were associated with high pH at 24 h and changes in meat colour. In conclusion, mixing pigs of above average aggressiveness resulted in greater aggression and stress, and changes in meat quality parameters, consistent with the effects of pre-slaughter stress on muscle chemistry.