Researchers Harness Play to Improve Welfare Productivity

Farmscape for April 1, 2021
Full Interview 12:19 Listen


Research underway at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine is demonstrating how pork producers can use play to improve pig welfare and productivity.Researchers with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine are examining the role of play in the development and productivity of the pig. Dr. Giuliana Miguel Pacheco, a Post Doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, says we know play plays a role in pig development, influencing social behaviour, it’s believed supporting the expression of play will promote characteristics that help them to cope with stress and it’s assumed play triggers positive emotions.

Clip-Dr. Giuliana Miguel Pacheco-Western College of Veterinary Medicine:
Play starts at a very young age, typically within the first few days following birth.
It will be noticeable at around two to three weeks of age when it peaks in the farrowing environment.

Piglets mainly perform locomotor play which is running pivoting and scampering.
They also play with other littermates which is seen as chasing or pushing while some piglets have also been seen playing with objects, as you may see with dogs, like chewing on toys or carrying objects or bits of feed or substrates such as straw for example.

We know from research in other species and pigs that the expression of play is significant as this is performed in the absence of fear, pain and illness so therefore seeing pigs playing can suggest their welfare is good. In the specific case of pigs that is of interest to producers is that play is significant because it helps pigs to develop their social skills.
When they engage in play with other littermates, they practices their social skills as they learn about how their actions influence other penmates. We’re investigating if supporting the development of these skills can result in pigs that can resolve social conflict quickly and with less injury and stress and if these skills learned early in life have long lasting  effects on the animals.
Dr. Miguel Pacheco says if this is the case, it could be a useful tool for supporting social skills in group housed sows, bringing the associated productivity benefits that come with it.
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Bruce Cochrane.
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