Vermeer, H., Dirx-Kuijken, N., Bracke, M. 2017. Exploration feeding and higher space allocation improve welfare of growing-finishing pigs. Animals 7(5), 36.
Lack of environmental enrichment and high stocking densities in growing-finishing pigs can lead to adverse social behaviors directed to pen mates, resulting in skin lesions, lameness, and tail biting. The objective of the study was to improve animal welfare and prevent biting behavior in an experiment with a 2 × 2 × 2 factorial design on exploration feeding, stocking density, and sex. We kept 550 pigs in 69 pens from 63 days to 171 days of life. Pigs were supplemented with or without exploration feeding, kept in groups of seven (1.0 m2/pig) or nine animals (0.8 m2/pig) and separated per sex. Exploration feeding provided small amounts of feed periodically on the solid floor. Skin lesion scores were significantly lower in pens with exploration feeding (p = 0.028, p < 0.001, p < 0.001 for front, middle, and hind body), in pens with high compared to low space allowance (p = 0.005, p = 0.006, p< 0.001 for front, middle and hind body), and in pens with females compared to males (p < 0.001, p = 0.005, p < 0.001 for front, middle and hind body). Males with exploration feeding had fewer front skin lesions than females with exploration feeding (p = 0.022). Pigs with 1.0 m2 compared to 0.8 m2 per pig had a higher daily gain of 27 g per pig per day (p = 0.04) and males compared to females had a higher daily gain of 39 g per pig per day (p = 0.01). These results indicate that exploration feeding might contribute to the development of a more welfare-friendly pig husbandry with intact tails in the near future.