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Environmental enrichment for growing pigs

Project Summary

Pigs are highly motivated to perform exploratory behaviours. In commercial facilities this behaviour is often directed towards other pigs, particularly in times of stress. This results in tail-biting, one of the most serious health, welfare and production problems in pig production. Docking of pigs’ tails is used as a control mechanism, yet even so, tail lesions due to biting are present in up to 70% of pigs. Moreover, routine tail-docking is forbidden in the EU. However, manipulable environmental enrichment reduces the amount and severity of tail-biting, and is a legal requirement. This project will investigate the efficacy of two enrichment materials on pig welfare: compressed straw and wood. Straw is extremely effective as enrichment; however the replacement rate of compressed blocks could be dependent on the diet of the pigs. Thus we will also investigate whether fibre level can impact the replacement rate of the straw. Wooden ‘chew’ posts are an alternative to straw, but there is little research on the most effective type of wood (e.g. hard or soft wood). Moreover, wood may be a cheaper option than straw in Ireland.

Finally, we will investigate the feasibility of managing pigs with undocked tails using the most effective enrichment strategies identified.

 Expected benefits

  • Comparison of enrichment devices commonly used in Ireland compared with other EU countries that have slatted systems, and identification of potential options for use in Ireland
  • Evaluation of compressed straw and wood as manipulable material for growing pigs, with regard to animal welfare and production, and economic cost
  • Investigation of whether adjustment of the fibre content of the diet could slow the rate of use of organic materials
  • Determining whether the most effective strategies identified using docked pigs can be used to successfully manage long tailed pigs without causing bouts of tail biting
  • The information gained can be used to help increase compliance with legislation, and improve knowledge of how to address the problem of tail biting in slatted systems.

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