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Author(s): Van de Weerd, Heleen A., Caroline M. Docking, Jon E.L. Day, Kate Breuer, Sandra A. Edwards
Publication Date: January 1, 2006
Reference: Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science 99 (2006) 230–247
Country: United States


There is a large body of literature supporting the hypothesis that environmental enrichment improves animal welfare. One of the main mechanisms by which enrichment improves animal welfare is the creation of behavioural opportunities to allow an animal to express control over its environment. Straw is generally regarded as a functional form of enrichment for pigs (Arey, 1993), as it occupies pigs for up to 25% of their active time (McKinnon et al., 1989; Beattie et al., 2000). It provides thermal and physical comfort, it can be ingested to provide gutfill, and it provides a substrate for chewing and rooting activities (Fraser, 1975). In situations where a substrate cannot be provided enrichment objects should be offered instead (Defra Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Pigs, 2003). However, if an enrichment object is offered as an alternative to straw it should occupy animals to the same extent and divert them from performing adverse behaviour. In a previous study by Van de Weerd et al. (2003) the characteristics of objects that were found to maintain a pig’s attention were ingestible, destructible, deformable, chewable and odorous, and these were in many cases associated with rootable substrates. However, other characteristics suggested by the analysis as important were ‘not rootable’ and ‘not particulate’, which although initially counterintuitive, related to hanging, ingestible objects, which proved very effective in maintaining a pig’s interest. In the present study, three different enrichment objects, which were designed according to the pig-specific requirements, were provided to groups of growing pigs with undocked tails. The enrichment treatments were a substrate dispenser providing straw, a rootable feed dispenser providing flavoured feed and a liquid dispenser that provided flavoured water when chewable rods were manipulated. These objects were compared with a pen with a full bed of straw (positive control) and a commercial enrichment object, a Bite Rite (Ikadan System, Denmark, minimal enrichment). Video tape recordings from weeks 1, 3 and 7 were scanned using time sampling to investigate general behaviour and enrichment use. Production parameters were measured, as well as occasions where tail biting (with fresh damage to a tail) occurred. The behavioural observations revealed that the pigs used all of the enrichment provided, but there were differences in the level and type of enrichment use by the pigs. The extent to which the straw and straw rack were used was significantly greater than for the other treatments (11.5 and 3.6% of the observations). Enrichment that was located on the floor could be manipulated from different postures, including whilst lying down; for example in 6.6% of the observations in which pigs on straw were lying down, they were manipulating the straw. This also applied, but to a lesser extent, to the straw rack and rootable feed dispenser. Groups provided with the liquid dispenser (which experienced technical problems) and Bite Rite had the highest prevalence of tail biting incidents (100 and 83% of pens, respectively). This study shows that a full bed of straw was the most successful way of occupying the pigs and, in addition, it prevented severe tail biting. Where it is not possible to supply a full bed of straw, point source enrichment objects such as substrate or feed dispensers appear to offer a good substitute. Such objects were well used and did not affect production negatively; furthermore, severe outbreaks of tail biting were prevented.

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