A High Enrichment Replenishment Rate Reduces Damaging Behaviors and Increases Growth Rate in Undocked Pigs Kept in Fully Slatted Pens

Jen-Yun Chou, Dale A Sandercock, Rick B D'Eath, Keelin O'Driscoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

One of the difficulties in complying with the prohibition of routine tail docking is a lack of effective alternative solutions to prevent tail biting, especially in fully slatted systems. This study compared three slat-compatible enrichment replenishment strategies for pigs. Forty-eight mixed-sex pens (six males and six females/pen) of undocked pigs were followed from birth to slaughter. Pre-weaning, half the pigs were provided with enrichment materials (a cardboard cup, rubber toy, hessian cloth and bamboo), in addition to a rope for the sows, in all farrowing crates. Post-weaning, all pens were enriched with eight identical items, including an elevated rack supplied with fresh-cut grass, and objects of wooden, bamboo, rubber, and fabric materials presented in various ways. However, three different replenishment frequencies were applied: "Low" (replenished on Monday/Wednesday/Friday), "Medium" (replenished once daily), and "High" (replenished ad libitum). Individual pigs were weighed on days 0, 49, 91, and 113 post-weaning. Direct behavior observations were conducted twice weekly at pen level (10 min/day/pen), and tail and ear lesion scores of individual pigs were also recorded every other week. These measurements were taken during the post-weaning period. The cost of all enrichment materials used was calculated. Pre-weaning enrichment only contributed to a lower ear lesion score (P = 0.04). No difference in lesion scores was found between post-weaning treatments. "Low" replenishment rate pigs performed more damaging behaviors (tail/ear biting, belly-nosing, mounting, other biting, and aggressive behaviors combined) than "High" and "Medium" pigs (P < 0.01). The average daily gain in the finishing stage was higher in "High" than "Low" pigs (P < 0.05). Although sporadic tail biting occurred, only 0.69% of the pigs had their tails bitten severely enough that they became shorter than half of a normal undocked tail. The average enrichment cost for the post-weaning period was <€2 per pig. In conclusion, the high enrichment replenishment rate increased growth and reduced damaging behaviors compared to the low replenishment rate pigs. Overall, these findings show that the provision and regular replenishment of multiple, slat-compatible, enrichment sources can reduce tail damage to manageable levels without the need for tail docking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)584706
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
Volume7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2020

Keywords

  • growing-finishing pigs
  • point-source enrichment
  • grass
  • tail biting
  • tail docking
  • harmful behaviors
  • pig production

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