WASHINGTON (March 4, 2020)— The environment in which pigs are raised contributes to their health, welfare and productivity. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $75,000 grant to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to examine how environmental enrichment techniques can improve pig welfare. Nestle and Tyson Foods provided matching funding for a total $150,000 investment.
Pigs are highly intelligent animals that thrive in environments where they can exhibit natural behaviors. The US livestock industry recognizes the need to improve animal welfare including developing better living conditions, which positively effects health and overall well-being. Group housing benefits pigs by improving social stimulation, but it also sometimes results in damaging behaviors like tail-biting and ear-chewing which occur, in part, due to boredom or frustration. Providing pigs with access to toys and devices, referred to as environmental enrichment, may reduce aggressive interactions and improve welfare.
“There is increasing public attention on how food is produced, and animal welfare is becoming more important” said Dr. Jeremy Marchant-Forde, USDA-ARS Animal Scientist. “Retailers and consumers expect farm animals to have a certain quality of life and it is essential that livestock industries meet that expectation.”
Providing enrichment can reduce stress levels, increase performance and productivity and decrease aggressive or abnormal behavior towards other pigs. Researchers are testing various environmental enrichment devices like chew toys and other devices and measuring their effects on pig welfare at key development stages in the pigs’ life cycle. Pig producers will use the results to develop environmental enrichment management strategies that benefit pig welfare and performance.
FFAR, Nestle and Tyson Foods are funding one of the first studies in the United States that examines the impact of enrichment materials on US pigs. This research is assessing the pigs’ welfare by measuring behavior, health and growth rates.
In Europe, minimum standards for pig production have already been successfully implemented, positively impacting pig health and welfare. This research examines how some European environmental enrichment practices can be applied to the US livestock industry.
“Apps, trinkets and doodling help many of us pass time and process information - turns out pigs feel the same way. Understanding how environmental enrichment impacts pig welfare pushes the needle in the right direction to ensuring that animal welfare is protected, while maintaining productivity and profitability,” said Dr. Sally Rockey, FFAR’s Executive Director. “This research will provide swine producers with ways to provide enrichment that they can then easily implement on their farms with minimal cost and effort.”
Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today's food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.