Chains as enrichment for pigs (Book chapter with supplement)

Chains as proper enrichment for pigs (incl. supplement) (Book chapter in Advances in Pig Welfare, M Spinka (Editor), Elsevier).

Rearing pigs in barren conditions reduces their welfare. Enrichment of pig pens is needed to allow the performance of species-specific natural behaviour like rooting. A metal chain provides rather limited enrichment, but when presented in an optimized way, may substantially improve the welfare of conventionally reared pigs in a most feasible way. The short metal chain can be optimize into the branched chain design. This is a long anchor-chain type chain reaching til floor level, with 2 or 3 shorter chain branches at nose height, and 1 such a branched chain being provided for every 5 pigs in the pen.

The underlying ideas are described in this book chapter:

Bracke MBM. Chains as proper enrichment for pigs (incl. supplement). In: Spinka M, editor. Advances in Pig Welfare: Elsevier (2017). The chapter (without supplement) can also be downloaded here.


This chapter primarily compiles work in which the author (Marc Bracke) has been involved with providing science-based decision support on the question of what is proper enrichment material for intensively-farmed pigs as required by EC Directive 2001/93/EC. Proper manipulable material should primarily provide occupation (i.e. reduce boredom), and preferably reduce tail biting.

The RICHPIG model was built expressing enrichment value as a score on a scale from 0 to 10. Metal objects like short metal chains had the lowest score. Subsequently, the Dutch government banned the use of metal chains, and most Dutch pig farmers attached a hard plastic ball or pipe to the prevalent, short metal chain. Unfortunately, our on-farm observations repeatedly suggested that this ‘enrichment’ may have reduced pig welfare, rather than improving it as intended by the Directive.

So-called AMI (animal-material interaction) sensors can be used to (semi-)automatically record object manipulation by attaching a motion sensor to hanging objects. Exploratory data are presented to, directly and indirectly, record enrichment value. AMI-sensors may provide objective, flexible and feasible registration tools of enrichment value, but their application is still rather demanding.

That the enrichment value of short metal chains can be improved upon, e.g. by providing branched chains. Essentially, this entails making chains longer, preferably reaching until the floor, and making them more readily available in a pig pen. To facilitate the process towards proper enrichment the principle of intelligent natural design (IND) is proposed. IND entails organising a repeated selection process of the (currently) best-available enrichment material so as to gradually reduce pig boredom and enhance the opportunities for the rearing of pigs with intact tails. IND should start with basically all pig farmers implementing promising enrichment like the branched-chain design on their farms as soon as possible, followed by conducting small-scale on-farm experiments to compare and improve enrichment through sharing of available knowledge. Suggestions are given as to how and why this novel approach can be implemented to solve persistent animal-welfare problems like providing proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs.

Related posts:

Chains as enrichment for pigs (Book chapter with supplement)
Ketting als hokverrijking voor varkens (incl. link naar het supplement)
Pig animation – Improved, branched chain design as proper enrichment for pigs
Branched chains as enrichment for pigs (technical description, pictures and video)
Proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs – From review to preview
A collection of pictures of other enrichment materials for pigs can be found here: Prize contest (Prijsvraag) 2011.
Do pigs play with chains? Science versus society

The video below shows the value of a branched chain provided in the outdoor run of organic pigs. This prototype branched was called ‘enriched chain’ because it was having various branches and reaching till the floor. The prototype was not yet made of stainless steel anchor chain links, but of relatively large c-chain links (2.5 cm wide, 5.5 cm long). It also shows that pigs show signs of frustration when trying to manipulate the hockey-type ball hanging on a short chain.