Main research question
In recent years, consumers, producers, meat processors and retailers have been paying increasing attention to animal welfare. To achieve higher welfare, the focus is often on adding positive (enriching) experiences for the animals, rather than removing negative experiences. Having music played is one form of auditory enrichment that some pig farmers are already using on a daily basis in their barns.
However scientific evidence around this topic is scarce. The objective of this operational group is to objectively map the added value of music for the welfare and performance of pigs. In addition to pig farmer Piet Paesmans (who took the initiative), Breydel, PVL, ILVO, Varkensloket and Mediaan BV are also involved as partners.
An objective approach will be used to determine which music (e.g. type, regime and loudness) adds value to pig welfare and performance at what time. This will be done on the basis of monitoring behavioral indicators (e.g. occurrence of stereotype behaviors), animal performance (e.g. daily feed consumption, daily growth and feed conversion) and automatic behavioral monitoring (e.g. activity level and location in pen) of the animals. The aim is to use the above findings to optimize music choice, music regime and loudness to stimulate positive desired behaviors (e.g., play behavior, achieve more quietness in a group or extra feeding) of the pigs.
First of all, the practical experiences of the partners and the scientific knowledge from the literature are brought together. A first preference test takes place in the group housing of pregnant sows at ILVO. The sows will be taught to control the music style and volume in their stalls via a music panel. Over several rounds, we will test whether sows prefer music to silence, what volume they prefer, and whether they have a preference for a particular type of music and whether these choices depend on the time of day and the individual, among other things. Based on the above indicators and observations, we will get an indication of the preferred music style, time(s) and volume and how to stimulate desired behavior in pregnant sows. A subsequent field trial will focus on music playback during the period around weaning.
With this operational group, we bring together several stakholders in the pig chain (pig farmers, software company, processor, cutting plant, researchers, practical center and policy) to stimulate desired behavior through the use of music and create added value in terms of animal welfare and animal performance. Proactively responding to aspects that improve animal welfare benefits the image of pig farming and offers opportunities as a marketing tool, for example a label for meat with higher welfare standards.