Do pigs form preferential associations?

J.L. Durrell, I.A. Sneddon, N.E. O'Connell, H. Whitehead

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45 Citations (Scopus)


This investigation examined whether pigs form long-term preferential associations or ‘friendships’ and factors that may influence the formation of these relationships. Thirty-three pigs from 16 litters were housed together from 4 weeks of age. At 10 weeks they were split into two groups of 16 and 17 pigs and each introduced into 3.05 m × 3.66 m observation pens (1st pen). At 17 weeks the two groups swapped pens (2nd pen). The lying patterns of each group were recorded over 3 weeks in both the 1st and 2nd pens. To identify dyads with preferential associations, association indices were calculated for each pair based on their lying patterns and analysed using SOCPROG1.3 and the permutation method [Whitehead, H., 1999. Programs for analysing social structure. SOCPROG 1.2,]. Dyads with high association indices for at least 2 out of 3 weeks in either pen, i.e. =0.10 (twice the mean), were classed as having preferential associations. Mantel tests were used to examine the relationship between the relative sex, weight, familiarity and relatedness of a dyad and their level of association and to examine consistency of associations between pens. The existence of preferential associations was identified in both groups, since the standard deviations for the observed half-weight association index means were significantly higher than for the randomly permuted half-weight association index means (P < 0.001). Of the 33 pigs observed, 32 formed preferential associations with one or more pigs in their group, resulting in 50 dyads. Only six dyads (12 pigs) formed preferential associations in both pens, suggesting that the remaining dyads either formed short-term associations only or were simply displaying a shared preference for the same lying location. Levels of association between pens showed no significant correlation. The relative sex, weight, familiarity and relatedness of dyad members also showed no significant correlation with their level of association. These findings suggest that unrelated pigs are capable of forming preferential associations. However, it is unclear whether such associations are widespread or important to pigs, since most dyads’ preferential associations were not consistent between pens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-52
Number of pages12
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)


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