Enriching the barren lives of factory-farmed pigs

Posted on 18 October 2018 by

Jacqueline Mills

in the Animals in farming blog

Over 213,000 of you have signed up to help get mother pigs out of cages and into groups. Thank you! Ending confinement is vital but more is required to give all pigs better lives

Pigs on factory farms become horribly bored and frustrated. As well as needing to be free from confinement, they need enrichment such as straw to explore and allow them to express their natural behaviour. Enrichment is also important for piglets as part of playing, learning and adapting to life as they grow. 

Factory-farmed pigs still retain their range of wild behaviours, and naturally they would spend around 25% of their day foraging or rooting around for food.  

Yet on factory farms, they’re provided their full nutritional requirement in a concentrated diet which they eat in about 15 minutes. They don’t need to forage for their food on factory farms, so it’s vital they’re still able to forage in other ways, and fulfil their behavioural need.  

Strong sense of smell 

As smell is their keenest sense, pigs naturally use their noses to explore their environment for food. They’re always keen to smell, feel and chew anything possible, yet there’s little to satisfy this need in a barren concrete pen. 

This lack of enrichment brings on stress, boredom, and frustration, which leads to abnormal repetitive behaviours.  

Just like a pacing tiger or swaying elephant in a zoo, pigs develop repetitive behaviours too, indicative of their daily stress and deprived natural behaviours.  

Pigs also ‘sham chew’ – repetitive chewing with no food – or bite bars, tails or other parts of other pigs. This can lead to injury, fighting, infection and even death.  

Enrichment is vital 

Enrichment is an essential, practical solution which enables pigs to be pigs.

Enrichment can be any safe material that stimulates and encourages natural behaviours. Straw bedding is a great form of enrichment, and allows for exploration, comfort and additional fibre to eat.

A pregnant pig in enriched group housing taking straw from a basket

Working with farmers and producers 

In some countries, straw is not easily available or safe, so famers need to innovate and use other local materials.  

I’ve experienced this need for innovation with materials in Thailand and China, and my colleagues have experienced it in Brazil. We worked with leading producers to provide enrichment and monitor the benefits, and developed practical guidance for others.  

We convey the important aspects of enrichment to farmers and producers: for example, materials must be enticing and chewable, and ideally edible. We also provide tips for placement, location and regular rotation of enrichment materials to keep pigs interested.

A pregnant pig chewing a hanging rope, which is a type of enrichment

Farmers can trial various materials they can sustainably access. For example, some farmers in Asia use rice hulls or sand for bedding, edible grasses, branches, wood, cabbages, coconut husks, natural ropes and sacks. They can also provide chewable ‘toys’ – some can be similar to the ones your dog loves!  

A life worth living

So, as we enrich our daily lives in ways that matter to us, we need to remember what matters to pigs. 

Whether they are pregnant mothers in a group or nesting prior to giving birth, curious growing pigs or male breeders, all pigs need to forage, explore and satisfy their natural behaviours.

We're calling on farmers and producers to provide enrichment for factory-farmed pigs. Find out more about our Raise Pigs Right campaign, and how you can help. 

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