URBANA, Ill. — Pigs love toys, and farmers have known that for years, but new research shows that bowling balls are out and hoses are in.
"If you're going to give pigs something to play with, give them toys they really like," said Temple Grandin, an animal behavioralist at the University of Illinois.
Pigs given their favorite toys seem less likely to hurt each other and more likely to produce good meat, Grandin said.
She and her associates have conducted research to determine which toys pigs like best and how long they play with them.
They found pigs prefer strips of cloth or rubber hoses hanging above their pens. Some chew on the ends "like gum," and others "jerk and shake" the toys like a dog pulling on a towel, said Grandin.
The pigs rejected two toys frequently provided by farmers: chains were too heavy and hurt their mouths, and balls became coated with manure from rolling around the pens, she said.
When the pigs have toys they like, they play with them regularly. Pigs played with the dangling objects about an hour a day the first week, then tapered off to a consistent half-hour "of intense activity" daily, Grandin said.
"It certainly looked like the pigs were enjoying themselves," she said.