Researchers from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) have been awarded £580,000 to study reducing pig aggression, improving welfare and maximising economic benefits for farmers.
The Biological Sciences Research Council provided funding for the project, which will investigate whether socialising pigs at a younger age could reduce their aggression when mixed later in life.
Pig aggression is difficult to tackle and can cause a major reduction in growth, with fighting among animals increasing significantly when they are mixed in unfamiliar groups.
SRUC senior researcher Simon Turner said: “Pigs are going to be mixed over the course of their lives a number of times.
“Changing that is just not practical so, over the years, researchers have tried to change the pigs’ environment, adapting it so they will react less aggressively when mixed.
“However, these changes, such as adding straw, mixing the animals at night and tranquillising them, have not worked in the long-term.”
Pigs have a strict social hierarchy and when they are mixed with unknown animals they need to form this hierarchy, resulting in aggression. The researchers believe if they can work out how pigs assess their fighting abilities and whether they can make sensible decisions on when to give up, practical ways can be found to reduce aggression.