Impacts of chronic stress and social status on various physiological and performance measures in pigs of different breeds

M. A. Sutherland, S. R. Niekamp, Sandra Luisa Rodriguez-Zas, Janeen Lyn Johnson

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Pigs typically experience various environmental stressors, which can negatively affect performance. Cortisol concentrations and various immune and performance measures are influenced by breed, but few data exist describing the impact of breed on stress responsiveness in pigs. The objective of this experiment was to determine if certain physiological responses to chronic stressors differed among 3 breeds and 2 commercial lines of pigs. The pigs were Landrace (n = 36), Meishan (n = 30), Yorkshire (n = 32), or 1 of 2 commercial lines (Line-A and Line-B; both n = 36). All pigs were weaned at 17 to 21 d and kept in a common nursery. At 49 d of age, pigs were assigned to 1 of 2 treatments: stress (heat, crowding, and mixing) or control (no stress treatment). Pigs were allocated to groups of 3 pigs per pen of the same sex. Control pigs were kept with their littermates. At the onset of the experiment, stressed pigs were mixed with 2 unfamiliar pigs once, and heat and crowding stressors were implemented simultaneously for 14 d. Pigs allocated to the stress treatment were video-recorded for 24 h following initiation of mixing to determine social status: dominant, intermediate, or submissive. Blood samples were taken at d 0 (baseline), 1, 7, and 14 to assess cortisol concentrations and immune measures. Breed and treatment affected cortisol, immune, and performance measures, but no significant breed × treatment interactions were found. In general, pigs subjected to the chronic stressor had lower (P < 0.001) BW and ADG (P < 0.001) than did control pigs. Plasma cortisol was lower (P < 0.001) among stressed pigs at d 7 and 14. Regardless of breed, lipopolysaccharide-induced proliferation (P < 0.01) and natural killer (NK; P < 0.005) cytotoxicity were greater in stressed pigs compared with controls. Furthermore, among stressed pigs, dominant pigs had a greater total white blood cell count (P < 0.005), NK (P < 0.05), and phagocytosis (P < 0.05) than the subordinate pigs. The results indicate that pig breed did not influence the physiological responses to the chronic concurrent stressors imposed for 14 d in this study, but social status did influence the immune responsiveness of these pigs to heat, crowding, and mixing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)588-596
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2006


  • Breed
  • Immune
  • Performance
  • Pig
  • Social status
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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