Pigs are highly inquisitive creatures. In their natural state they spend most of their active time rooting around the soil investigating its content. They are always looking to see whether there is anything of interest below the surface and are forever searching for food and tit-bits they may find there. Their prime means of investigation is their nose which they use to sniff, smell, root and dig.
The natural pig farming deep bed system is designed to maximize pig comfort whilst meeting their hardwired needs to root and explore their floor environment with their noses. The natural materials the floor deep litter bed is made from provides the ideal physical enrichment materials to create a welcome and stimulating environment for pigs. It allows for investigation, manipulation and consumption.
- Floor comfort: Soft texture, Thermal insulation, Drainage
- Recreational: Chewing, rooting, foraging
- Nest building material: When sows give birth
- Dietary: Consumption of rice husks provides bulk lacking in concentrated processed feeds, Nutritive value
- Oral behavior direction: Focus on bedding not biting other pigs!
- Hygiene: Dry, clean, healthy
- Air quality: no obnoxious odors
- Health: No respiratory problems, No limb injuries due to slipping, No lameness, No abrasions or foot injuries
In such a stimulating, pig friendly environment, pig vices such as tail biting, vulva biting are non existent, and even mild aggression is rare. I have yet to experience any issues of pig aggression and would be unaware that pig aggression was an major issue were it not for its prevalence in factory farming systems.
Factory farms have two types of flooring, both highly detrimental to pigs hard wired behavioral needs. Floors are made either of concrete or metal slats. These provide hard unyielding surfaces to lie on, and offer absolutely no opportunity to carry out one of the pigs hardwired behaviors, which is to root. These floors lead to widespread incidences of pig lameness. They cause painful skin abrasions (limb, shoulder and teat) and claw lesions that provide entry points for pathogenic organisms resulting in inflammation and pain. They also result in foot holding issues that cause injury to claws, legs and body.
In the case of concrete, due to the water systems used to flush away excrement, the pigs are forced to sleep on a excreta stained surface, something pigs, given the opportunity avoid (they choose to have a toilet area as far away from their living, lying area as possible). Adding significantly to the problems is that of air quality as the liquidifying of manure creates high levels of ammonia gases. This can cause respiratory problems for the pigs.
Both systems, where not totally sealed off from the outside world, attract millions of germ carrying flies (particularly in hotter climates) due to the stench of the excrement and attraction of feed residue, making this a very uncomfortable life for the pig. They also create excellent breeding grounds for bacteria and virus’s that have ample opportunity to mutate into anti-biotic resistant pathogens that can causes devastating disease to both pig and humans.
The graph below shows how the level of aggression is reduced the more you have relevant manipulable materials for a pig. The red column indicates the level of mild lesions observed on pigs due to aggressive acts, the blue column indicates the level of pigs afflicted with serious lesions as a result in being in conflict with another pig. As you can see having ample straw on the floor in a pen dramatically cuts the levels of pig aggression a evidences by the level of lesions.
It is now widely recognized that pigs need to have some manipulable materials to interact with if they are to be reasonably content. European Union (E.U.) law stipulates that manipulable material must be added to pens, yet to date the addition of the straw to fulfill this requirement simply is not happening on any kind of meaningful scale. Non-compliance is rife and at present there is little indication that the E.U. has the will or resources to enforce their own legislation. Even where there is some compliance it is evident that rather than providing straw in sufficient quantity and depth to be of some interest to the pig, what ends up as little more than a few specks of straw on a bare floor is all that is offered. It's a joke.
It should also be noted that straw is the manipulable material that the E.U. stipulates that should be added. This is not because pigs inherently want or desire straw to manipulate. They don't. Pig are rooting animals that are irresistibly drawn to soil, mud, surfaces that can be dug through rooting and surface ground water. They have very little natural desire for straw and in the natural environment would totally ignore this material in favour of rooting. This is also the case for pigs being raised in deep bed natural pig farming pens. Certainly adding deep straw to a concrete floored pen is a step up in welfare for a pig in that non-stimulating factory farm environment; it will show some interest, but let's be clear, the use of straw as a manipulable material is solely because it is readily available and convenient in cost and application for the factory farmers. It does not solve the huge problem of pigs needing meaningful environmental stimulation. And it does not eliminate pig aggression. See natural farming mud bath wallows.
Note: My view on the use of straw as a manipulable material is my own opinion based on observations of the pigs I've raised in our natural farming system. I have yet to see any published research on pig interest in different types of manipulable material other than straw.