Periparturient cortisol, acute phase cytokine, and acute phase protein profiles of gilts housed in groups or stalls during gestation

A comparison of indicators of stress between gestating gilts housed in pens and those housed in stalls.

Year of Publication2007

Use of gestation stalls in pork production remains a controversial topic in animal welfare. Immune status and measures are frequently used to assess stress levels and thus well-being of confined animals. The important welfare issue of close confinement among gestating gilts was tested by quantifying cortisol, acute phase cytokine, and acute phase protein pro-files before and after farrowing of gilts housed in 2 systems. Landrace x Yorkshire crossbred gilts housed in groups of 4 (group, n = 8) in pens (3.9 x 2.4 m with 4 individual feeding spaces, 9.36 m2 total or 2.34 m2/gilt) were compared with gilts housed in standard industry stalls (stall, n = 16; 2.2 x 0.6 m, 1.32 m2/gilt). Floors were fully slatted, and a substrate was not provided for either system. Cortisol was determined from saliva on d 105 of gestation, 1 h after moving the gilts into farrowing stalls (d 111), and 24 h and 7 d after farrowing. Cortisol was greater (P = 0.04) for group gilts compared with stall gilts 1 h after moving them into farrowing stalls and 24 h after farrowing. Cortisol concentrations decreased (P = 0.001) over time. Leukocyte mRNA expression of IL-1, IL-1 receptor antagonist, and tumor necrosis factor- was determined by quantitative, reverse transcription PCR on d 35, 63, and 91 of gestation and 72 h after farrowing. Cytokine mRNA expression of peripheral blood mononuclear cells did not differ between housing systems for IL-1, its receptor antagonist, or for tumor necrosis factor-. Acute phase proteins, including fibrinogen, haptoglobin, and 1-acid glycoprotein were determined for plasma samples taken at d 35, 63, and 91 of gestation and 72 h and 14 d after farrowing. In contrast to cortisol, plasma fibrinogen concentrations increased (P < 0.005) over time. Haptoglobin did not differ between treatments (P > 0.10). Stall gilts tended to have greater (P = 0.07) plasma 1-acid glycoprotein concentrations than group animals at d 35 of gestation and d 14 after farrowing. These data showed a trend (P < 0.07) for 1-acid glycoprotein concentrations to return to baseline more quickly in group-housed gilts, which did not appear to be directly related to increased cortisol just before farrowing. In conclusion, few differences in the acute phase response were detected between housing systems, suggesting that the resting immunological responses are only mildly affected by gestation stalls.

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