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Saskatchewan research explores benefits of play and time spent with humans on pig welfare and productivity

Researchers with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine are evaluating the long-term effects on welfare and productivity of providing environmental enhancements to piglets during their first weeks of life.

In an effort to improve the lifetime productivity of pigs, researchers with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) are exploring the effect of early life management strategies on longer term welfare outcomes. Siba Khalife, a PhD candidate swine behavior and welfare at WCVM, explained that in their first 12 weeks of life domestic pigs undergo a large amount of development and the behaviors they learn during this period will long lasting effects on their welfare and productivity.

”What we did in our trial is follow the pigs from birth to slaughter and so what we did was apply management strategies in two periods of birth to four weeks, so that would be the farrowing stage, and then four to 12 weeks, which is nursery and early growers and then we removed the housing enhancements and observed them until slaughter. We compared four treatment groups of the production enhancements and then we compared them all to standard production housing pigs. The management strategies we looked at were giving them chewable materials of burlap and rope. We also increased their space in the farrowing barns and stocked them less densely in the nursery and we gave calm human interaction to them for five minutes three times per week,” explained Siba Khalife with WCVM.

“We chose these particular ones because oral manipulation of the environment changes things for them and it helps them develop their gut to explore their surroundings and to play in early life specifically and because extra space has been found in many studies to improve welfare and it would also make them less fearful of humans which reduces distrust and also makes them easier to handle by staff,” added Khalife.

Khalife said the project is in the early data analysis stage so conclusive results are not yet available but barn staff have reported the management treated pigs have less aversion and approach stock people more readily.

Source : Saskpork

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