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Author(s): Peeters, Ester, Bert Driessen, Christel P.H. Moons, Frank O. Ödberg, Rony Geers
Publication Date: January 1, 2006
Reference: Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science 98 (2006) 234–248
Country: Belgium


The enrichment of pigs’ pens with straw has been a well-studied topic during the last decades and its effects on several aspects regarding pig welfare, physiology, and performance have been reported. Fraser et al. (1991) mentioned the positive influence of straw due to its use as a recreational and nutritional substrate and as thermal bedding. Pigs of enriched environments are more active and show increased exploratory and decreased manipulative behaviour (Arey and Franklin, 1995; De Jong et al., 1998; Beattie et al., 2000). These pigs are less aggressive in their home pens (Beattie et al., 2000) and in a confrontation test with unfamiliar pigs (O’Connell and Beattie, 1999) than pigs from barren environments. Also, more physiological stress before slaughter may lead to excessive glycogenolysis in the muscles, resulting in a higher lactate production and a more rapid pH decline (Lambooij et al., 2004). Therefore, a better meat quality for enriched pigs may be expected, which was demonstrated in studies of Beattie et al. (2000), Klont et al. (2001), and Lambooij et al. (2004). Other authors, in contrast, reported no influences of environmental enrichment on meat quality (Geverink et al., 1999; Day et al., 2002). Providing pigs with straw bedding throughout the entire growth phase can be quite costly and labour demanding, so providing straw during the finishing phase can be a good alternative to improve a pig’s coping capacity for transport and its meat quality. Additionally, straw provision might positively influence consumer perception. The aim of this experiment was to study and compare the effects of temporary straw bedding for various periods before slaughter (6, 4, and 2 weeks) and no straw provision on pigs’ growth performance, behaviour, cortisol concentration, intermediary metabolism, and meat quality. This experiment was replicated six times but in two replicates T6wk could not be included. A total of 220 pigs were involved, of which 132 served as focal animals for behavioural observations. The meat quality of 110 of these pigs was measured and 48 pigs were also sampled for salivary cortisol. The pigs of T6wk and T4wk had a higher average daily weight gain after 2 weeks of straw bedding, whereas no differences in feed intake or feed conversion were observed over the whole test period, nor effects on carcass weight or back fat thickness. The weekly observation of the focal animals during 5 min showed that straw provision decreased pen manipulation (P = 0.001) and pen mate manipulation (P = 0.0001). The time pigs spent on postures and specific behaviours like eating, biting and fighting was not different between treatments. Saliva samples, taken every 2 weeks, revealed no cortisol concentration differences between the treatments. No differences in plasma cortisol, glucose, lactate, or NEFA concentrations were found at slaughter. The concentration of creatine kinase tended to be lower in pigs of T6wk compared to pigs of T0wk (P = 0.07). No treatment effects on skin lesions of the front, middle, and hind regions were observed in the slaughter line. Finally, meat quality measurements in the longissimus dorsi muscle revealed no differences in pH 45 min post-mortem or in pH, electrical conductivity, colour, and water-holding capacity 24 h post-mortem. It is concluded that straw redirects the pigs’ behaviour from pen manipulation and pen mate manipulation to straw manipulation after straw provision, but that there are no or only minor differences in carcass quality, cortisol concentrations, intermediary metabolites, and meat quality of pigs given a temporary straw bedding of 6, 4, or 2 weeks before slaughter or no straw.

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