WASHINGTON (March 4, 2020)— The environment in which pigs are raised contributes to their health, welfare and productivity. The Foundation for Food & 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. 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 and Tyson Foods are funding one of the first studies in the United States that examines the impact of enrichment materials on U.S. 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.