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An investigation into the effectiveness of compressed straw blocks in reducing abnormal behaviour in growing pigs

  • A. Haigh (a1), J. Yun-Chou (a1) (a2) (a3) and K. O’Driscoll (a1)

Abstract

The provision of manipulable material to pigs is a legal requirement to ensure their good welfare. Loose straw is edible, chewable, investigable and manipulable, and has been proven to be effective in reducing abnormal behaviour. However, it is incompatible with slatted systems and therefore not a viable option for many intensive units. Thus, there is a need to identify enrichment materials that are as effective as loose straw and compatible with slatted floors. This study investigated the viability of using compressed straw blocks on a commercial farm in terms of cost and effectiveness in reducing biting relative to plastic hanging toys. A total of 880 slaughter pigs were used, among which half (n = 440, 8 groups) were provided with commercial pig toys (TOY) and the other half (n = 440, 8 groups) were provided compressed straw blocks (STRAW BLOCK). Animals were separated according to sex to investigate whether there was a higher propensity to tail and ear bite depending on sex. Pigs were monitored from weaning to slaughter, with tails being examined post scalding and any condemnations recorded at the abattoir. Throughout their life, the tails and ears of all pigs were examined individually, and behavioural observations of each pig group were conducted fortnightly. Salivary cortisol was also obtained from a subsample of pigs from each group every fortnight to monitor stress levels. The highest straw usage was recorded in the second weaner stage (39 to 67 days after weaning). Enrichment type or sex had no effect on tail lesion scores or cold carcass weight recorded at the abattoir. There was also no effect of enrichment type or sex on body, tail, or ear lesion scores during either the weaner (0 to 39 days after weaning) or finisher stage (67 to145 days after weaning). Female pigs showed more biting behaviour than males, and female pigs that were provided STRAW BLOCK performed better than those provided TOY. In both the weaner and finisher accommodation, more instances of interaction were recorded with TOY pens as enrichment than with STRAW BLOCK, but the interaction duration was not recorded. There was no effect of sex on either stage. More instances of aggression were observed with the TOY than with STRAW BLOCK in the weaner stage (P < 0.05). Enrichment type or sex had no effect on cortisol levels. Thus, relative to plastic hanging toys, compressed straw blocks provided in this manner did not benefit pig welfare.

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Present address: School of Biology and Environmental Sciences, University College Dublin, Ireland.

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An investigation into the effectiveness of compressed straw blocks in reducing abnormal behaviour in growing pigs

  • A. Haigh (a1), J. Yun-Chou (a1) (a2) (a3) and K. O’Driscoll (a1)

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