Use of different wood types as environmental enrichment to manage tail biting in docked pigs in a commercial fully-slatted system
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Provision of adequate environmental enrichment on pig farms is a legal requirement under current EU legislation and also alleviates the risk of tail biting. Wood is an organic alternative where loose bedding, which has been identified as the optimal enrichment, is not possible on fully-slatted floors since it may disrupt the slurry system. The study compared four different wood types (beech (Fagus sylvatica), larch (Larix decidua), spruce (Picea sitchensis), and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.)) as enrichment, taking into account the qualities of the wood, economic considerations, and effectiveness at reducing damaging behaviours and lesions. A total of 800 tail docked finisher pigs on an Irish commercial farm were used. Eight pens were provided with each wood type (25 pigs/pen), and the study was conducted over 2 replicates in time. In each pen a single wooden post was presented to the pigs in a metal dispenser with two lateral chains during the finisher period (12 to 22 weeks of age). The rate of wear, moisture content, and hardness of the wood along with lesion scorings and behavioural observation on pigs were monitored. Spruce was consumed more quickly than other wood types in terms of weight loss and reduction in length (P<0.001), resulting in a greater cost per pig. Pigs were observed interacting with the spruce more frequently than the other wood types (P<0.05). Pigs also interacted with the wood more often than the chains in spruce allocated pens (P<0.001). Overall the interaction with wood posts did not decline significantly across time. However, there was no difference in the frequency of harmful behaviours (tail/ear/flank-biting) observed between wood types, and also no difference in the effectiveness of the different types of wood in reducing tail or ear damage. There was a positive correlation between ear lesion and tear-staining scores (rp=0.286, P<0.01), and between tail lesion and tail posture scores (rp=0.206, P<0.05). Wood types did not affect visceral condemnation obtained in the slaughterhouse. Wood is a potentially suitable enrichment material, yet the wood species could influence its attractiveness to pigs.
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