Pigs Love Scratching But Are Hard on Scratchers: A LAREF Discussion

The Laboratory Animal Refinement and Enrichment Forum (LAREF) is an online platform, hosted by AWI, where individuals working with animals in research share ideas and experiences related to improving the welfare of animals under their care. Recently, Renee Gainer asked for recommendations for pig scratchers. Jacqueline Schwartz, Lorraine Bell, Brianna Gaskill, Evelyn Skoumbourdis, Michele Cunneen, Viktor Reinhardt, and Janneke Arts provided recommendations. Some comments have been edited for clarity or brevity.

photo by www.schurr-geraetebau.de
photo by www.schurr-geraetebau.de

Any suggestions on pig scratchers? We’ve tried several and the pigs just destroy them rather than use them to scratch. Thoughts? Ideas? (Renee)

I used to use a back scratcher when I cared for pigs many years ago. Sometimes, time was an issue but I tried every chance I got! It is going to be tough to find something they can’t destroy; they are masters at destruction! (Jacqueline) 

Have you tried using sections of artificial grass mats? (Lorraine)

At Purdue University, colleagues and I had a master’s student try to design a scratch pad for farm pigs. However, we had a lot of issues of pigs destroying them rather than scratching with them, like Renee did. The pigs really liked the coconut fiber welcome mats (to eat as much as to scratch with). We also tried the plastic mats—be careful with these, as we did have some sows with more scratch marks on their body than we expected. However, we couldn’t say exactly that it was from the plastic mat. Key learning: make sure all the edges are well covered with something metal. If the sows get a firm hold, the mat is gone!

More than anything, they ate the coconut mat when they were hungry. Production sows are limit-fed (so they don’t get fat), and we noticed one pen was not eating the mats. We realized that they were getting more feed than they should have because they had one less sow. When the food was adjusted, they destroyed the scratcher. If possible, this shows how important fiber/gut fill is for pigs. (Brianna)

I’m a big fan of just going in and using my own hands—they love it. However, used floor buffer scrubbers are great for them. Just hang them securely in the pen. Not only is it upcycling, but it takes a while for the pigs to destroy them, which adds to the enrichment value. (Evelyn)

I like the cow ones that spin, but they are more expensive than a floor mat or floor scrubber pad. (Michele)

Michele, did you expose pigs to one of those quite ingenious cattle scratchers? I can visualize pigs having a blast with these machines. (Viktor)

Yes, and they loved it because it only spins when they touch it. So they would try different methods of touching it. The spin also prevented rooting it off the fence. (Michele) 

At our animal facility we use coarse/rough brooms, just the head attached with the back/top to the wall. They love them and they keep fairly well. And they are really cheap compared to commercial options. The pigs twist around until all spots are scratched. (Janneke)  

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