Pigs at Play

 

Any stockperson watching a group of pigs will soon be amused to observe their play activities. Play prepares them for situations and trains survival skills.

 

Pigs are extremely intelligent animals with a degree of complex behaviours that match and if not surpass a domestic dog. Unlike cattle and sheep, pigs exhibit a greater inquisitive and individualist behaviour patterns. This can be practically demonstrated when moving a group of pigs. In many ways pigs are more like people than they would wish to admit.

 

Providing an environment where pigs can explore their play behaviour can help relieve stress and allow the pig to cope better if their environment is temporarily adverse.

 

Company

 

Pigs will gain comfort and support from other pigs and other animals. Pigs should not be kept in isolation. There may be obvious exceptions when the pig is under treatment for meningitis or a severe lameness. However, once the pig is over the critical stage of the condition it should be housed with other pigs of a similar weight and age.

Environmental enrichment

Adult pigs

 

Adult pigs have a generally lower requirement to play with items placed in their pen. However, playing music to adult sows can have a calming effect and has been used to reduce savaging of piglets by gilts.

 

Farrowing sows can be provided with chopped paper, straw and hay to allow them to act out their nesting behavioural requirements. Adult sows can be provided with some chop straw even while being housed in stall accommodation. Note that the bedding materials can cause disturbance to the slurry system which if blocked would lead to significant other problems.

 

Picture shows shedded paper/


 

Wean to finish pigs

 

All wean to finish pigs should be provided with toys within the pen.

The simplest toys are often the most effective. Pigs love to play with chains, rattles, large plastic bottles, rubber belting, old boots and feedbags.

Large balls became popular in the 1990s and while these can be useful pigs can also become bored with them. In addition they can be placed in feeders and block feed access.

Balls

Chains

Purpose built

 

 

Car tires should be avoided as they have metal supports which can be swallowed by the pigs resulting in intestinal rupture.

Pen layout/shape

 

Pen layout can encourage play behaviour. However, note that in pens which are long and narrow this can result in a running game with large numbers of pigs running at high speeds. As the pigs attempt to turn at the end of the pens individuals may slip and become injured including long bone fractures. When designing the pen ensure that this running behaviour is catered for by providing chicanes which will slow the pigs down.