Farm animals need enrichment too.
31 Oct, 2022

Did you know farm animals get bored just as humans or companion pets do?

Boredom is distressing and damaging in humans and it’s the same for animals.  No matter how smart they are, if boredom continues over a long period of time, serious negative consequences may occur. Animals, of course, can’t tell us their feelings, however bored animals seek out ways to remove their boredom and this is displayed in certain behaviour.

Even healthy and loved animals can still suffer from a lack of stimulation. We combat boredom in our animals by giving them extra time and attention, toys, and offering them food puzzles on a regular basis.

Our pigs are all in their own pens, with some having a companion.  While they do get to go out on the field each day, the animals are in the same environment every day. Without other stimulation, this can result in boredom behaviour such as becoming agitated.

Since losing his pig friend almost 2 years ago now, Jurgen has gone from a very friendly and happy pig to an often grumpy pig, who has sadly sometimes shown aggression. It is incredibly sad to see this change, but we can help him.  Give Jurgen a treat ball and this occupies him, mentally stimulates him and encourages his natural foraging behaviour. When Jurgen has a treat ball he is happy and content, grunting away to himself.

Otis lives with Oswald so has company and access to the field for a few hours every day.  When Otis is out on the field, he loves nothing more than to dig and forage around. however, in his pen he has nowhere ‘new’ to dig and has showed signs of boredom through over drinking.   Pigs can become bored of objects after experiencing them a few times, so if we could have a variety of different enrichment items they will continue to be novel.

So, you may be wondering what you give a pig to keep him occupied and stimulated.  Examples of enrichment are;

  • Providing different piles of substrate (leaves, fresh dirt, mulch).
  • Using brushes to build scratching posts for them to groom and itch on.
  • Creating dig patches with children’s pool/sand pits by adding in stones, dirt, straw, branches etc.
  • Creating our own puzzles, a stand with bottles with holes in, pigs have to nudge at the bottles for food to tip out.
  • Snuffle mats can be given with treats in/on.
  • Adding different scents to the pig’s environment. Oils and aromatic herbs.
  • Treat balls, boxes.
  • Building/creating forage boxes.

Caged animals are more likely to display abnormal or repetitive behaviour from boredom.   Avian Influenza currently restricts the chickens’ ability to live free-range and limits access to grass, plants, and weeds. This impacts their natural behaviour to dust bathe, forage and socialise – causing them to become bored.  Chickens can show boredom by feather pecking, and aggression towards each other.    In some cases, they can develop into a state of depression, staring into space, isolating themselves, showing no interest in eating, and generally looking and feeling sad.

For the chickens we can:

  • Add stumps, branches, ramps, ladders, shelves to provided opportunities to perch and explore. Chickens also enjoy a swing!
  • Shrubs, bushes, and grasses break up the space and provide more opportunities for the chickens to explore.
  • Creating and adding dust bath areas.
  • Balls that treat can roll out of – this keeps chickens busy for longer periods of time.
  • Radio’s playing classical music has been proven to calm chickens.

We have seen from the few enrichment toys we have on the farm, that they are extremely beneficial.  If we were able to have more enrichment items, we can improve the animal’s overall welfare.  If you would like to help our farm animals then you can purchase enrichment items via our Amazon Wishlist here or use the donate towards the costs here.


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