Dr Keelin O’Driscoll – Research officer, Teagasc
Provision of manipulable material is a legal requirement in pig production, but difficult in slatted systems. The most effective devices for reducing harmful behaviours are manipulable and destructive. Rubber devices that can be chewed and gradually wear away have been shown to be reasonably effective in reducing harmful behaviours.
However, most of these have been devices that are suspended from the ceiling or wall, which don’t necessarily satisfy the pig’s desire to root and move material around. Recently, we carried out a short trial in Moorepark investigating the appeal of a novel floor toy compared with a similar toy hanging from a chain. We compared the toys at different allowances (1 or 3 toys at a time) to see whether providing more of them has any benefits for the pig, or has an effect on the wear of the toy.
During the experiment, the hanging toy didn’t lose any weight at all, and the length of the arms didn’t shorten. However, the floor toy consistently lost weight and arm length whether there was only 1 or 3 in the pen, significantly more so when there was only 1. This can be explained by the behaviour of the pigs towards the toys: the pigs had more interactions with the floor toys than the hanging ones, and each interaction lasted approx. 5 times longer. Thus the floor toy appears to be more appealing to the pigs and holds their interest for longer.
With regard to the number of toys, pigs had the same number of interactions with the floor toy regardless of whether there was 1 or 3 provided. This explains why the wear of this type of toy was much greater when there was only 1 provided, as this single toy was absorbing the same level of activity as when there were 3 in the pen. Moreover, when there was an only 1-floor toy, significantly more of the interactions ended with a displacement than when there were 3, or when the pigs had hanging toys. This also indicates the appeal of the toy to the pigs, as they appeared to be queuing up to use it.
There was no problem with tail health in this group of pigs, but we did find that when pigs had more toys, they had less damage to the ears, so easy access to the toys could be important to reduce harmful behaviours. We also found that there was no problem of the floor toy getting dirty or trapped in the automatic feeder – in fact, the toy was so clean we could not score it for dirtiness, with less food stuck to it than the hanging toy. Overall this floor toy appeared to be more attractive to the pigs than the commonly used hanging toys, with no problems of hygiene, and very little management involved. If you would like more information regarding the benefits of environmental enrichment for pigs click here.