SRUC gives close research attention to “playtime for piglets”

A creative workshop focusing on the importance of “playtime for piglets” was a success for researchers and piglets alike, says Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) who ran the event at its pig unit, near Edinburgh.

The aim of the workshop was to enable researchers and students to allow animal welfare questions to be creatively explored, encouraging the participants to think from the perspective of another species.

“The programme began with a demonstration of the gentling process,” explained SRUC. “After piglets are weaned, volunteers spend a few hours over a couple of days socialising the pigs to human contact to reduce stress and habituate the pigs to any test environments that might be used in behaviour and welfare trials.”

All workshop participants were designated a litter of 4-week old piglets and settled themselves in a pen to wait for the piglets to approach and subsequent exploration. During the gentling session the participants were asked to observe how the piglets investigated them, each other and their surroundings. They were also asked to imagine a form and type of object that would retain the interest and offer stimulation to a young pig, in other words a toy attractive to piglets!

Course participants were then taken to the workshop area where they were encouraged to use their observations to influence the making of play objects. The toys were made from mainly natural materials such as pine cones, turnips, sticks and hay and were designed primarily for exploration by mouth and snout.

The play objects were then placed into pens of grower pigs to test if the participants’ interpretive understanding of what would interest a pig was accurate. The responses of the grower pigs were observed and recorded.

“We are carrying out on-going research, studying the benefits of play in early life for the long term welfare of pigs,” said SRUC’s animal behaviour researcher, Dr Emma Baxter.

“Pigs are particularly gregarious creatures. They are very intelligent and get bored easily and this can lead to misdirected behaviour like tail biting. Play is therefore very important for the pig’s social development.”

Headline image shows Dr Adrian Philbey, Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Pathology at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at University of Edinburgh, participating fully in the workshop.

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