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Pig Welfare: Manipulatable Materials vs Toys!

by 5m Editor
13 March 2003, at 12:00am

By Pippa Swan, rlconsulting, UK - New UK Welfare Regulations for pigs went before the UK parliament last month. These Regulations will implement two new EU directives, meaning that the same rules will apply in all European member states.

Sow rooting in straw yard
Sow rooting in straw yard

Toys for the boys pigs

One aspect of the new Regulations in particular has attracted mainstream media attention: the need to provide 'toys' for pigs.

However the legislation does not specifically require this, what it does require is that pigs are provided with a material which enables 'proper investigation and manipulation activities'.

Some kinds of 'toys' might fit this description but the examples given in both EU and UK legislation are 'straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture of such'.

Natural Materials Best

There are several reasons why this list of materials is better for pigs than any ball, chain or rope. We know from research that pigs feel motivated to behave in certain ways and that if they are prevented from behaving in that way then they will feel frustrated, stressed and may suffer.

This can have negative consequences on their health and performance and may lead to pigs behaving abnormally, for example, aggression towards or chewing of other pigs' tails.

When domestic pigs are given the opportunity they will spend more than half of their daytime looking for food through rooting and grazing. We also know that even if pigs are provided with all the food they need in an easily available form they will still feel the need to root around and search for food.

The 'getting' of the food is important, not just the food itself, hence the importance of investigation and oral manipulation for pigs.

Boredom

The problem with 'toys' is that, as with ourselves, after the initial novelty wanes they can become boring, there may also not be enough toys to allow all the pigs in a group to play.

Adding an object with limited investigation and manipulation opportunities to a bare and uninteresting pen will not significantly improve their welfare. So that pigs can do the things that are important to them the enrichment needs to be integral to their environment. When pigs have access to the sorts of materials listed in the Regulations they can use them to perform the type of activity they enjoy and benefit from.

Research Challenge

The challenge is to find or adapt ways of keeping pigs so that the needs of both the pig and the farmer are met. Projects, like the Food Animal Initiative at Oxford University, are using different sorts of accommodation and substrate materials, waste wood chippings for example, to develop successful commercial systems.

Further Information

Further information on the topics raised in this article:

Food Animal Initiative

rlconsulting

Minimum Standards for the Protection of Pigs in the EU

Source: rlconsulting, UK - March 2003