Effect of plant-based enrichment materials on exploration in rearing and fattening pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus)

When pigs cannot perform innate species-specific behaviours (e.g. rooting or chewing), behavioural disorders, like tail biting, can occur. However, it seems that various enrichment materials enhance the pigs to perform exploration behaviour and therefore can help to reduce and prevent tail biting. The aim of this study was to identify such highly explored plant-based enrichment material for undocked pigs during rearing and fattening. Furthermore, we evaluated the impact of the offered enrichment materials on tail length and injuries. Therefore, we continuously recorded the individuals’ exploration durations of 20 groups in total by using an ultra-high-frequency radio-frequency identification system, installed at material dispensers. Lucerne pellets (LP), straw pellets (SP), chopped hay (CH) and chopped straw (CS) were offered in a systematically alternating order for two-week sections, respectively. At weaning and at days of material change (i.e. eight times in total), animals were weighed and scored for tail length losses and tail injuries. For analysis, the changes in tail length compared to the previous section were calculated as Δ-tail-length losses. Our study revealed that the different offered plant-based enrichment materials affected the duration of exploration behaviour (e.g. rooting, nosing or chewing) during rearing (4 groups, LME, P < 0.0001) and fattening (16 groups, LME, P < 0.0001). In piglets, exploration duration was higher for pelletized materials (LP, SP) than for chopped materials. Fattening pigs explored materials of hay (CH) more often compared to straw-based materials (CS, SP). Daily weight gains of rearing pigs were affected by the type of enrichment material offered in the respective section (LME, P < 0.0001). The highest daily weight gains were achieved when CH was offered. Exploration duration during rearing and fattening was affected by section (LME, both P < 0.0001 for rearing and fattening). Exploration duration during rearing was highest in section 4 and continuously increased from the first section to the last section during fattening. During rearing, the plant-based enrichment materials affected tail injuries (GLMM, P < 0.0001) and Δ-tail-length losses tended to be affected (GLMM, P = 0.057). Fewest tail injuries and Δ-tail-length losses occurred when SP was offered. During fattening, section affected tail injuries (GLMM, P = 0.01). Most injuries occurred during sections 1> and 2. Our results show that pigs of different ages seem to prefer different enrichment materials. High exploration durations do not necessarily maintain intact tails if material is changed biweekly. However, exploration durations can be maintained at high levels from rearing through fattening period by regularly alternating the provided plant-based enrichment materials.



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