June30 , 2022

Farmer’s guide to different enrichment types for pigs



Farmer’s guide to different enrichment types for pigs

It is a legal requirement that all pigs in the UK are provided with some form of environmental enrichment.


Research has found when pigs are happy and less frustrated they are less likely to carry out undesirable behaviours, such as tail biting.


Every year £3.5m is lost in the UK pig industry through tail biting. And to try and prevent this it’s important to prevent pigs being bored.

See the top tips on selecting the right enrichment tool, the comparison of enrichment types and enrichment advice below. Information provided by AHDB Pork.

Read more: Pigglet management – birth to Weaning

Top tips on selecting the right tool

1. Novelty

It’s the novelty factor that really engages pigs. If you supply enrichment in the form of objects then you may need to use more than one type and change it regularly, or present it in a different way.

2. Level of engagement

If less than 50% of pigs are engaging with the object or substrate then it needs changing.

3. Keep it simple

Simple objects can often work well.

4. Keep it clean

Objects that gets soiled or dirty will be less interesting to pigs. It’s important to observe what the engagement is with the enrichment.

5. Easy upkeep

Make sure that they can be easily cleaned and also easily changed.

6. Take care



6. Take care

Caution should be taken when using various forms of enrichment. For example, beware when using mushroom compost as that can carry bacteria and other micro-organisms.

Railway sleepers may also carry some toxins, as can recycled shredded paper as it can carry print toxins.

Root vegetables are a good source of enrichment, but remember parsnips can be toxic to pigs. And when using wood, it shouldn’t be treated and should be size appropriate for the pig and not be able to fit through slats otherwise it will block up the system.

Read more: Preventing Pigglet exposure to disease

7. Bedding

In housing, where bedding materials cannot be provided as a source of enrichment, then other enrichment materials and objects should be provided.

8. Slatted floors

AHDB Pork suggests object-based enrichments are best suited for pigs in systems on slatted floors.

9. Variety

Use two or more enrichments at any one time.

Type of enrichments

The AHDB Pork Real Welfare scheme assessed 5,463,348 pigs between 2013 and 2016 and noted the following enrichments:

60.8% had access to straw

2.5% other substrate

16.4 chain without attached object

21.4% plastic object

7.1% other object

1.7% no enrichment seen

Read more: Biosecurity of pigs and farm security

Enrichment types compared

Definition of ratings

Optimal will provide all the enrichment requirements of a pig – it is manipulable, edible, investigable and chewable. No additional enrichment is required.

Suboptimal meets almost all of the above, but not quite

Marginal meets on or two criteria, such as manipulable or chewable, but will need supplementing with an optimal or suboptimal enrichment type.


Rating Optimal (when used as bedding)


When provided in racks it is easy to access and can easily be refilled by staff

It is edible, chewable and manipulable


In high temperatures, lots of straw could increase the risk of heat stress so areas of no straw may need to be provided

It is costly

A tray may need to be placed under the rack to prevent straw affecting the slurry system

Can be time-consuming to replenish

When provided in racks it becomes difficult to investigate


Refill regularly

Keep clean and dry





Rating Optimal


Edible, investigable and manipulable

Can be provided on its own

Plays a role in physical comfort and thermal regulation


May require replenishing twice daily

Significant time and cost associated with use

Can only be used in outdoor systems or indoor if pigs are housed on straw


Provide enough to avoid competition

In high temperatures, it can increase the risk of heat stress so areas of no substrate may need to be provided


Fresh wood

Rating Sub-optimal


This can be added in the pen in various ways – either suspended by a chain or left on the floor

Chewable and manipulable

It can also be put into a holding tube with commercial products available


Not always edible and investigable

Some wood may cause damage to pigs


The size of wood blocks should be proportional to the size of pigs

Enough pieces should be provided to avoid competition between pigs

It is important to ensure wood is not dried or splintered

Wood pieces should be large enough so they don’t fall down slats and damage slurry equipment

Yew is poisonous to pigs so this should be avoided.



Paper or cardboard

Rating Suboptimal


Chewable, manipulable and may be edible

Cardboard can be used as sheets or a box can be provided on the floor

Paper can be provided in shredded format or as sheets


May not be suitable for slats as they could clog up slurry systems

Needs to be complemented with edible and investigable material as it is not investigable


Enough must be provided to avoid competition

Make sure there are no print toxins on paper especially when using recycled material



Root vegetables

Rating Suboptimal


Edible, chewable, investigable and manipulable

Can be provided lose or in a rack


May require a lot depending on numbers

Can affect rationing

Needs replacing regularly

Don’t use parsnips as they are poisonous to pigs


Variable depending on the season but can be quite expensive

Footballs, wellies and plastic toys

Rating Suboptimal


Minimal installation in terms of time and cost

Chewable and manipulable


Not edible or investigable

If presented loosely in a pen toys can become soiled quickly and reduce interest


Never introduce dirty wellies as this can transmit disease and be a health risk to pigs

Presenting objects in different ways can extend the novelty of it

Provide enough to prevent competition

Should be complemented by optimal or another sub-optimal enrichment



Commercial toys range from pennies to £25

Rope (sisal or hemp)

Rating Suboptimal


Easy to install and can be suspended or wrapped around pen fittings

Knots can be added to increase complexity and make it more difficult for pigs to break bits off


Ropes that break off can pass through slats and intervene with slurry systems

Edible and of limited investigable quality


Provide enough to prevent competition

Should be complemented by edible and investigable material


Low cost

Strong hosepipe

Rating Marginal


Easy to attach as can be wound around the bars of gates and suspended or fixed to pen walls

Chewable and manipulable


Must be changed regularly to try and maintain pigs’ interest

Not easily investigable


Enough hosepipe should be provided to prevent competition

Should be thick enough so it cannot pass through slats

Should be complemented by optimal or suboptimal enrichment



Enrichment checks

When choosing enrichment make sure it is:






How to recognise insufficient enrichment

Signs of insufficient enrichment could include:

More aggressive behaviour directed at pen-mates. This can include fighting or chewing and ear, flank or vulva biting

Excessive drinking or chewing on nipple drinkersBiting or chewing at pen fittings

Biting or chewing at pen fittings

Unsettled pigs

Increased noise

Enrichment needs

Pig enrichment should fulfil the following:

Edible or feed-like so pigs can eat or smell them, preferably with some nutritional benefit

Chewable so pigs can bite them and also provides information on taste/odour

Investigable so pigs can investigate them, allowing pigs to root with their snout

Manipulable or deformable so that pigs can change their location, appearance or structure

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