There are several ongoing projects in the Horback lab:

Stress Coping in Sheep

This research project involves sheep temperament and behavior as it relates to biological factors such as eye white percentage, heart rate, and respiratory rate.  The goal of this research is to identify individual differences in stress response among sheep using both physiological and behavioral observations.

Boar Enrichment

In this experiment, we are hoping to demonstrate the practicality and efficacy of more species-specific enrichment options for boars and how these may affect their welfare. More specifically, we are introducing boars to two practical enrichment items that producers would have access to – a Bite Rite and rope – and measuring the incidence of sham chewing and other stereotypic behaviors while enrichment items are present versus while they are absent. There is no prior research in this area specific to boars, despite the socially isolated and barren environments they are most often housed in.   The goal is to determine which enrichment object boars will interact with the most, observe if exposing  them to enrichment changes duration of stereotypic behaviors,  and distribute this information to producers.

Vocalization & Behavior

Currently, there is little research on context-specific vocalizations in swine.   This research project involves classifying piglet vocalizations during an open field test (see the ‘Animal Personality’ tab for more information on tests). There is an apparent void in the literature when it comes to interpretation of pig calls: experimenters were labeling certain vocalizations as indications of a ‘stress response’ solely based on frequency or decibel level without context.  In order to elaborate on this partial understanding of piglet calls, this study aims to separate and categorize vocalizations based on behavioral context in order to determine what an actual ‘stress response’ vocalization looks like.  The goal of this research is to advance the field of animal welfare by providing researchers with the identification of a definitive vocal stress response.

Odor Response

The purpose of this study is to investigate the response of weaned piglets to certain odors.  More specifically,  piglets 4-8 weeks old will be exposed to artificial boar pheromones (treatment group), vinegar (treatment group), and water (control) over a period of time.  The goal of this research project is to test the theory found in literature that artificial boar pheromones can reduce aggression in piglets due to a submissive response to the odor.

Teat Order & Aggression

This research project explores the possible influence of teat order on aggression in piglets throughout the early stages of their life (0-8 weeks).   The study will investigate previous claims that fighting for more anterior teats leads to more dominant pigs.  The goal of this research is to identify why some pigs may be more aggressive than others without looking only at genetics and breed.  If fighting for anterior teats leads to more aggressive pigs, further research could be done on how to mitigate this effect to reduce fighting among older pigs and sows.