Environmental enrichment for gestating sows

Environmental enrichment for pigs reduces aggressive behaviour

Environmental Enrichment for Pigs has become very important as new legislation has been introduced in recent years making it a requirement on pig farms. Since 1st January 2013, all sows and gilts in the European Union must be housed in groups during a period starting 4 weeks after service until 1 week before the expected time of farrowing (EU Directive 2001/88/EC). Prior to this, individual housing meant that sows suffered from social deprivation and lack of exercise.

In recent years, many consumers in other parts of the world are becoming increasingly conscious of farm animal welfare. More and more pig farmers in North America, South America and Asia are transitioning to group sow housing systems. One particular challenge that has been seen with the move to group-housed sows is that of aggression. Pigs are social animals and within groups, they form social rankings. In these dominance hierarchies, subordinate sows will suffer from bullying and aggression from the dominant sows. These subordinate sows generally show poorer growth rates as they are interrupted during their feeding time and can be recognised with higher skin lesion scores. The benefits of providing environmental enrichment to pigs include;

  • Reduces the frequency of aggressive behaviour (tail biting, ear biting etc.).
  • Increase the pig’s ability to deal with challenges in a more natural way.
  • Broaden the range of behaviours expressed.
  • Improve production performance (feed intake, average daily gain, feed conversion ratio).
  • Reduce stress.

Electronic sow feeding (ESF) systems allow sows to be fed according to individual requirements however the dominant sows can spend their time around the ESF station waiting to gain access to it and bullying the subordinate sows out of the way. The EASYFIX Astro 200 can be suspended from a fixed area close to the ESF and may provide the subordinate sow with some ‘relief’ from the aggression seen by the dominant sow. Both dominant and subordinate sows have been seen to value access to enrichment in group housing systems (Elmore, et al., 2011)

Enriched sows are also more active and spend a greater amount of time standing up compared to sows in barren pens. This helps with regard to fitness prior to farrowing and helping to achieve an ideal body condition score. Fat sows can have difficulty with farrowing, consume less feed during lactation and wean lighter litters.

EASYFIX Astro 200 and EASYFIX Luna 142 can help improving sow welfare by encouraging exercise and reducing vices and bullying behaviour, and help to encourage natural exploratory behaviour. Providing the EASYFIX Astro 200 and EASYFIX Luna 142 as enrichment is ideal for fully slatted floor systems where the use of material like straw can cause problems with liquid manure systems. If you would like to read more about enrichment devices for young pigs click here.