Growing pigs’ interest in enrichment objects with different characteristics and cleanliness
Beaudoin, J.M., Bergeron, R., Devillers, N., Laforest, J.P. (2019). Growing pigs’ interest in enrichment objects with different characteristics and cleanliness. Animals, [online] 9(3), http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ani9030085
Plain language summary
The modern swine industry is mostly based on an intensive production model that
has evolved under economic pressure and has shaped rearing facilities around production optimization rather than the natural needs of pigs. Barren rearing spaces for growing pigs do not allow them to fully express their natural behaviors (e.g., rooting and chewing). This can lead to the emergence of abnormal behaviors, such as tail-biting which causes stress to the animals, and potential financial loss.
A simple strategy to allow pigs to express their natural behaviors is to add enrichment objects to the rearing environment. However, pigs tend to lose interest in the objects rapidly. The characteristics of an object, such as the degree of cleanliness and malleability of the material used, can significantly increase its attractiveness. This study first compared seven different objects based on the level of manipulation received from growing pigs. A block of dried wood that was presented on the floor had the longest manipulation time. Secondly, four objects were compared for their level of cleanliness or wear and no differences in manipulation were found between objects that were cleaned or replaced daily and objects that were not cleaned or replaced (for a period of five days).
Enrichment objects can be a practical way to provide rooting and chewing material to growing pigs, on which they can express species-specific behaviors. The challenge is to provide enrichment objects that will satisfy pigs’ behavioral needs, while being practical and low-cost for the producers. Two trials were conducted to evaluate the effects of object characteristics such as design, location, cleanliness or degree of wear, on pigs’ interest over time. The first trial compared seven objects, varying in their design and location, presented individually for five consecutive days to groups of 12 ± 3 (average ± SD) pigs, weighing 61 ± 9.2 kg. The pigs’ interest in the objects was evaluated based on the frequency, total duration and mean length of manipulation with the objects. All objects were manipulated at different levels depending on their characteristics. On average, the pigs interacted more frequently (p < 0.001) with a chewable object made of three polyurethane balls, spring-mounted and anchored to the floor, and spent more time manipulating a dried wood beam on the floor (p < 0.05), which was destructible and chewable, than suspended ropes, plastics and rubber objects, and a plastic ball on the floor. The second trial used two-choice preference tests to compare objects varying in their degree of cleanliness or wear, presented in pairs to growing pigs weighing 47 ± 7 kg and housed in groups of 14 ± 1. Two identical objects were placed simultaneously in a pen over 5 days, and only one of them was cleaned or replaced daily (treatment) while the duplicate was left untouched (control). The results showed no clear preference between control and treatment objects, indicating that short-term maintenance of the objects might be unnecessary.