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J Anim Sci. 2003 Feb;81(2):416-22.

The effects of ractopamine on the behavior and physiology of finishing pigs.

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Department of Animal Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.


The objectives of this study were to examine the effects of ractopamine (RAC) on the behavior and physiology of pigs during handling and transport. Twenty-four groups of three gilts were randomly assigned to one of two treatments 4 wk before slaughter: finishing feed plus RAC (10 ppm) or finishing feed alone. Pigs were housed in the same building in adjacent pens with fully slatted floors and ad libitum access to feed and water. Behavioral time budgets were determined in six pens per treatment over a single 24-h period during each week. Behavioral responses of these pigs to routine handling and weighing were determined at the start of the trial and at the end of each week. Heart-rate responses to unfamiliar human presence were measured in all pigs and blood samples were taken from a single pig in each pen on different days during wk 4. At the end of wk 4, all pigs were transported for 22 min to processing. Heart rate was recorded from at least one pig per pen during transport and a postmortem blood sample was taken from those pigs that were previously sampled. During wk 1 and 2, RAC pigs spent more time active (P < 0.05), more time alert (P < 0.05), and less time lying in lateral recumbency (P < 0.05). They also spent more time at the feeder in wk 1 (P < 0.05). At the start of the trial, there were no differences in behavioral responses to handling. However, over each of the next 4 wk, fewer RAC pigs exited the home pen voluntarily, they took longer to remove from the home pen, longer to handle into the weighing scale and needed more pats, slaps, and pushes from the handler to enter the scales. At the end of wk 4, RAC pigs had higher heart rates in the presence of an unfamiliar human (P < 0.05) and during transport (P < 0.05), but not during loading and unloading. Also at the end of wk 4, RAC pigs had higher circulating catecholamine concentrations (P < 0.05) than control pigs. Circulating cortisol concentrations and cortisol responses to transport did not differ between treatments. The results show that ractopamine affected behavior, heart rate, and catecholamine profile of finishing pigs and made them more difficult to handle and potentially more susceptible to handling and transport stress.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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