The revised Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs includes several changes that impact production practices on Canadian farms, including requirements for the provision of enrichment to pigs at all stages as well as group housing for sows. Multiple studies have shown that providing appropriate enrichments can result in significant benefits to pigs.
Because pigs are highly motivated to explore their environment, enrichment gives them something to root and interact with in the pen environment, and can reduce the manipulation of pen mates. Enrichment benefits include reduced fear responses, reduced aggression and vices, and improved growth. There are multiple enrichment options that can be used such as alternative feed types, pen objects, pen design, or human interaction. Many of these enrichments can be produced on-farm and implemented at low cost.
What environmental enrichment strategies can be incorporated into slatted-floor pen systems for sow groups?
Researchers screened several different enrichment devices, such as hanging wooden blocks, three items hung together (chain, rope and wood block) and straw. They also studied different enrichment strategies, including the constant provision of one enrichment device, the rotation of three enrichment devices and no enrichment
Results showed that enrichment had a positive impact on sow behavior and that all tested enrichment devices can be used with sows. Sows tended to interact more with the devices when they were changed regularly (rotation). Sows tended to prefer chopped straw over the other devices. Straw provides the advantage of being both malleable and consumable, but can be challenging to use due to concerns over manure management and biosecurity.
A follow-up study with fibre enrichments noted that dominant sows had greater access to enrichment, suggesting the more valued enrichment resulted in greater competition. Further investigation is needed to better understand the importance of social status and different forms of enrichment.