10 April 1998

Bad behaviour could be

reduced with more fibre

INCREASING dietary fibre could reduce by up to 50% some tell-tale signs associated with poor welfare in pigs, such as bar-biting.

Speaking at the British Society of Animal Science annual meeting, SAC pig specialist, Sandra Edwards, says producers feed pigs to meet nutritional requirements, but in ways that bear little resemblance to a pigs natural behaviour. "That leads to stereotypic behaviour." An example of this behaviour is bar-biting by sows kept in pens partly constructed with tubular metal bars, she suggests. "Its much more than a reflection of hunger in sows. Although were meeting their nutritional needs for meat and reproduction, its a display of food-seeking behaviour."

In some intensive systems sows may spend 10 minutes feeding whereas theyd spent half a day rooting for food in the wild, suggests Dr Edwards. "Not satisfying sows feed requiment by allowing sufficient access to feed also increases aggression in group housed animals.

"Its uneconomic to give extra food – sows will become fat and that will lead to farrowing problems. We need to fool the sow into thinking shes not hungry." Trials at SAC feeding unmolassed sugar beet pulp as a gut-filling ingredient in the ration have seen a reduction of about 50% in some stereotypic behaviour for indoor systems.

From a welfare point of view it may be beneficial to feed additional fibre, but Dr Edwards warns producers not to overestimate its nutritional value to the pig. "Pigs arent ruminants and can get little from a large amount of fibre."

"Diets must be balanced to account for a higher fibre content. Producers should also expect a higher volume of faeces as a result."