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The effect of long or chopped straw on pig behaviour

  • H. P. Lahrmann (a1), L. C. Oxholm (a1), H. Steinmetz (a1), M. B. F. Nielsen (a1) and R. B. D’Eath (a2)...

Abstract

In the EU, pigs must have permanent access to manipulable materials such as straw, rope, wood, etc. Long straw can fulfil this function, but can increase labour requirements for cleaning pens, and result in problems with blocked slatted floors and slurry systems. Chopped straw might be more practical, but what is the effect on pigs’ behaviour of using chopped straw instead of long straw? Commercial pigs in 1/3 slatted, 2/3 solid pens of 15 pigs were provided with either 100 g/pig per day of long straw (20 pens) or of chopped straw (19 pens). Behavioural observations were made of three focal pigs per pen (one from each of small, medium and large weight tertiles) for one full day between 0600 and 2300 h at each of ~40 and ~80 kg. The time spent rooting/investigating overall (709 s/pig per hour at 40 kg to 533 s/pig per hour at 80 kg), or directed to the straw/solid floor (497 s/pig per hour at 40 kg to 343 s/pig per hour at 80 kg), was not affected by straw length but reduced with age. Time spent investigating other pigs (83 s/pig per hour at 40 kg), the slatted floor (57 s/pig per hour) or pen fixtures (21 s/pig per hour) was not affected by age or straw length. Aggressive behaviour was infrequent, but lasted about twice as long in pens with chopped straw (2.3 s/pig per hour at 40 kg) compared with pens with long straw (1.0 s/pig per hour at 40 kg, P=0.060). There were no significant effects of straw length on tail or ear lesions, but shoulders were significantly more likely to have minor scratches with chopped straw (P=0.031), which may reflect the higher levels of aggression. Smaller pigs showed more rooting/investigatory behaviour, and in particular directed towards the straw/solid floor and the slatted floor than their larger pen-mates. Females exhibited more straw and pen fixture-directed behaviour than males. There were no effects of pig size or sex on behaviour directed towards other pigs. In summary, pigs spent similar amounts of time interacting with straw/solid floor when long and chopped straw were provided, and most aspects of pig-directed behaviour and injuries were not affected by straw length. There was an increase in pigs with minor shoulder lesions with chopped straw, perhaps because of increased aggression. The use of chopped straw as an enrichment material for pigs warrants further investigation in larger and more detailed studies.

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Corresponding author

E-mail: hla@lf.dk

References

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The effect of long or chopped straw on pig behaviour

  • H. P. Lahrmann (a1), L. C. Oxholm (a1), H. Steinmetz (a1), M. B. F. Nielsen (a1) and R. B. D’Eath (a2)...

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