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New study explores the effects of environmental enrichment on pig behaviour, productivity and meat quality

14 May 2019, at 9:30am

Straw in a rack has been found to be an effective enrichment material for pigs.

According to a paper published in the journal Animals, researchers have demonstrated that using straw in a rack as an enrichment material for pigs positively enhances their behaviour, meat quality, physiology and productivity. The study set out to evaluate the effects of four enrichment materials on the behaviour, health, performance and carcass meat quality in pigs kept in Spanish production facilities. The researchers used 96 male pigs (six pigs/pen) ranging in age from 70-170 days old. The pigs were subjected to two pre-slaughter manipulations – 0 or 12 hours of fasting. The behaviour of the pigs was observed, and biological indicators were measured to indicate overall well-being and compare to their pre-established baseline. In terms of enrichment, chains were used in the control group. Wooden logs, straw in a rack, or paper were used as substrates.

The results of the experiment indicated (with a high level of statistical significance) that straw triggered more exploratory behaviour in the pigs than either wood or chains. Biological well-being indicators such as skin lesions and re-directed behaviour were lower for pigs who were given straw in a rack for enrichment. Biological indicators of stress were higher in pigs who had paper, wooden logs or chains as enrichment. Levels of recorded stress were lower in pigs who had straw. Similar trends were observed when researchers compared meat quality samples between the different groups. Overall, the researchers concluded that, “straw in a rack was the enrichment material that enhanced inherent pig behaviour.”

This study This research could be a key step in encouraging producers to cease practices like tail docking – a procedure needed to curb injury in pigs who are reared intensively. Since many farmers have indicated that they require information that is specific to their particular production system before they cease the practice of tail docking, the findings of this study could be persuasive. The paper also includes an appraisal of the practical issues of adopting straw as an enrichment material.

You can read the full article here.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Farm Watch.