By Jonathan Martin
In Canada, pork producers must provide their pigs with enrichment at every stage of development.
The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs and the Canadian Pork Excellence program both outlines Canadian pigs’ enrichment needs.
Farmers face a bit of a challenge meeting those needs, though. As the Canadian enrichment industry takes off and the number of available products explodes, balancing quality and price is becoming a complex task.
The cheapest options are, of course, everyday items like wood blocks or ropes. Pigs are smart, though, and they seem to love puzzling out ways to destroy their toys. Wood, rope, burlap and other natural options won’t last long amongst the herd and the remaining toy fragments might end up in the manure pit.
So, some producers are turning to commercial toys. They’re more expensive but they’re made to last.
“In a recent OMAFRA demonstration project using commercially available toys for group housed sows, we found that the sows preferred toys with chewable projections which could be destroyed over time,” Dr. Laura Eastwood told Farms.com in an email. She’s a swine specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
“However, the sows did interact with all the different toys we tried including suspended balls and discs.”
No matter where the toy comes from, when choosing an enrichment item for your pigs, keep in mind what your pigs want to do with it.
“The main goal of providing enrichment is to improve the biological functioning of the animal,” Eastwood said. “Pigs are often raised in fairly barren environments, which can lead to the development of undesired responses such as aggression, excitability and tail biting. Providing enrichment can help with the development of the pig and, in turn, reduce these undesired responses from the animals.”
The item should be able to sustain your pigs’ interest, encourage the exploratory behavior of the animals and be regularly updated to maintain the pigs’ interest.
The enrichment material should be accessible, so that pigs can easily interact with it, but should be given in a high enough quantity so as to not foster competition between the animals.
A toy should also be hygienic. There’s nothing worse than a sick herd.
“The Code of Practice recommends the six Ss for determining if an object or toy is suitable for pigs,” Eastwood said.
You can find the six Ss below.
- No sharp edges
- No tires
- No poisonous wood or wood that may have been preserved, or any other toxic material
- No staples or fixings in wood
- No materials that may be toxic to pigs
- Limbs and/or other body parts cannot become trapped
- If the enrichment can be broken or dismantled by the animals, the fragments must not pose a safety risk
- The enrichment should not be able to be used to injure pen-mates or damage the enclosure
- Materials should not be fouled
- Materials should be easily cleaned or sterilized to prevent disease transmission
- For the pigs to slowly destroy the object, it must be malleable (adds to the novelty factor)
- Anything too complex can cause frustration and could lead to vice
- Several simple items are better than one complex item and allows more pigs to have access at one time
- Do not site toys over lying, drinking or feeding areas
- Dunging areas prove the optimum position
- Switch sites regularly to help maintain novelty
- Provides extended novelty factor
- Avoids fouling
- Allows more pigs to gain access to the toy if it is suspended in a central location