Costs of chewable objects to improve pig welfare: Experiments on three commercial farms

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There still is unused potential for low-cost improvements in welfare on commercial farms. This presentation gives an overview of three experiments on chewable materials for pigs, carried out on three commercial farms in Finland. In Experiment 1 on 438 piglets, the experimental farrowing pens (N = 30) were furnished with sisal ropes and a commercial pig toy from birth to weaning, and newspaper and wood shavings were given twice daily. The control pens (N = 29) only had the commercial toy and wood shavings. The most important welfare benefit was that at the age of 2 months, i.e. one month after weaning, the mean prevalence of severe tail damage (partly eaten tails, or wounds with inflammation) was 32.1% (71 pigs) in the control pigs and 9.8% (21 pigs) in the experimental pigs (P < 0.001). The material and labour costs of the extra materials (ropes and paper) for 217 piglets totalled 133 Euros. This investment saved 49 tails from severe damage. Based on previous studies on economic losses caused by tail biting, this was calculated to have improved productivity by 119 Euros. The net cost of saving 49 tails was 0.29 Euros per saved tail during the weaner phase. In Experiment 2 on 780 slaughter pigs from the age of 2 to 4 months, pens were furnished with a straw rack, a metal chain and one of the following: freshly cut young birch tree trunks (N = 14), a cross of polythene pipe (N = 13), double metal chains (N = 15), all of the above (N = 14) or none of the above (N =17; N refers to the number of pens, with 11 pigs per pen). There was no significant difference in the prevalence of partly eaten tails (P > 0.1), but the prevalence of tail wounds was lower in pens containing wood as compared to those without wood (P < 0.01). While the control pigs had 36.2% wounded tails (66 pigs) and 32.4% intact tails (59 pigs), the prevalences in wood-only pigs were 16.4% (25 pigs) and 55.9% (85 pigs) respectively. The material and labour costs of wood totalled 270 Euros for 152 pigs. This investment saved 36 tails. Based on previous studies on economic losses, this was calculated to have improved productivity by 230 Euros. The net cost of saving these 36 pig’s tails was 1.11 Euros per saved tail during the growing/fattening phase. In Experiment 3 on 167 breeder gilts, there were no extra materials, thus no extra costs. Instead, the ordinary objects used on that farm were removed from the experimental pens, replacing them with experimental objects designed to have the same cost but more welfare benefits. The experimental group had fresh birch wood and polythene pipes during the weaner period, and fresh birch wood from 2 months onwards (N = 12). The control group had the commercial toys during the weaner period and pieces of old wood and metal feeder chain from 2 months onwards (N = 12; N refers to the number of pens, with 7 gilts per pen). At the age of 4 months, no differences were found in tail damage or in economic performance as measured by the percentage of gilts approved as breeders and the use of medicines (P > 0.05). The behaviour of the pigs suggested better welfare in the experimental group: biting and rooting at other pigs was less prevalent than in the controls (32 vs. 41 events / pig / hour, P < 0.05) and the experimental pigs used the objects more (9 vs 5 events / pig / hour, P < 0.001). The results of Experiment 3 demonstrate that on some farms at least, so-called enrichment can be improved to yield better welfare at no extra cost. Regarding all the experiments, further research is needed on the relationship between pig welfare and economy, such as the economic value of animal suffering, and what does it cost to prevent e.g. an hour of pain in pigs?
Titel på gästpublikationProceedings of the NJF Seminar 476 : Economics of Animal Health and Welfare
StatusPublicerad - 2014
MoE-publikationstypA4 Artikel i en konferenspublikation
EvenemangNJF Seminar 476: Economics of Animal Health and Welfare - Hämeenlinna, Finland
Varaktighet: 2 okt 20143 okt 2014

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