Can Bored Pigs Benefit From Toys Inspired by IKEA?

ikea ball pit pigs photo

Image: paulidin + Stephen Fulljames/CC BY-SA 2.0

Pigs are smart. As smart animals, they can be easily bored. Bored pigs become more aggressive, posing a danger to themselves and causing losses for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) farmers, as well as creating ethical questions about the quality of life we allow animals whose "noble purpose" is for the boss to eat, as a pig named Babe so horrifically discovered.

Animal researchers in Germany are looking for solutions to the problem of pig boredom. But is this a good thing?Toys consisting of colorful plastic balls hung on springs in the pig stalls provide one solution. The researcher behind the pig toys, Uwe Richter of the University of Kassel in Witzenhausen, claims that the idea came from the famous ball pits in IKEA childcare areas, Die Welt reports.

The pig toys inspired by IKEA ball pits were elected by the Fördergemeinschaft Nachhaltige Landwirtschaft (NFL, Association for the Promotion of Sustainable Agriculture in English) as the most popular German pig toys.

However, the pigs at an organic farm where a demo version has been installed largely ignore the toy.

Richter explains that organically raised pigs would rather dig about in the straw or chew on the wooden stalls than play with toys. The toys are effective only in CAFOs, where the pigs are too jammed in to just roll about in the hay. The unpredictability of the ball on its spring keeps the animals interested -- when that is the best they get.

And that is exactly the problem. Organic farmers protest the toys, because pigs should be given enough space for quality of life, not simply entertained to minimize production losses.

Behind the research is a new European law. Starting in 2013, pig toys must be "changeable" so that pigs do not simply lose interest. Germany has subsidized the IKEA-ball toy research to the tune of 200,000 euros (300,000 US dollars). That is not play money.

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