Researchers Look to Harness the Emotional Benefits of Play to Improve Pig Health and Performance

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Farmscape for August 22, 2022

Full Interview 11:57 Listen

The Western College of Veterinary Medicine and the Prairie Swine Centre are exploring the prospects of using play to improve the emotional well being of pigs and improve their resilience and performance. The Western College of Veterinary Medicine and the Prairie Swine Center, with support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and 14 industry partners, are exploring the beneficial effects of play in growing pigs. Karolina Steinerova, a PhD student, with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, says there is evidence that pigs with an enhanced welfare status maintain a positive mental state which could improve their health and performance.

Clip-Karolina Steinerova-Western College of Veterinary Medicine:
Contrary to the past, where an improvement of the living conditions focussed on the elimination of negative experience such as pain, the research community has recently shifted its attention to the promotion of positive experiences. Play behavior is a good candidate to fulfil a roll of a positive experience for pigs as it is considered that play is positive as playing animals appear to be excited and having fun.
Animals also engage in play in a stress-free environment when all other needs are fulfilled, therefor scientists assume that the animals have a good welfare state and play behavior could therefore have a positive effect on the mental well being of pigs. If we consider research in humans, a positive mindset has been linked to boosting immunity and reducing the incidence of illness for example. However, research about the promotion of positive emotional well being in pigs is in the stages and there are many assumptions, therefore this project aims to narrow the knowledge gap and identify if play can be used as a tool to support positive welfare in the existing system and what are the benefits for production.

Steinerova says this project offers a new approach by which the quality of life and performance of intensively farmed pigs can be enhanced through a means that resonates with consumers.

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