Wetenschap - 21 december 2011

Video games, sex dolls and workouts for pigs

In the pig pen of the future, mama pig does workouts and switches between cleaning chores and getting a clay mask. Papa pig finds satisfaction in a sex doll while the piggy's play a computer game.

A computer game to spice up a pig's life - an idea from animal scientist and philosopher Marc Bracke - attracted a lot of media interest last week. But Bracke has even more innovative concepts for the pig pen: 'sex dolls' for uncastrated male hogs, exercise equipment, chains and excrement sliders which uses the natural rooting behaviour of pigs to clean up the pig pen. And after all that hard work, there are mud baths or showers for cooling down comfortably and keeping the skin in good condition.
Bracke bases his ideas on pig biology. He also likes to go a step further. 'I am intrigued as to what is really necessary for the welfare of animals. Pigs resemble humans much more than we would sometimes like to admit. They are absolutely not lazy and stupid farm animals. Pigs are really inquisitive by nature.'
When pigs are bored, they give vent to their natural inclinations by fighting among themselves and biting one another's tails, ears and sides. Pigs need a lot of distraction or 'enrichment materials' for their curly tails to remain unharmed. Bracke has set up a quiz to further stimulate the search for novel toys. This has brought in about twenty ideas.
In addition, Bracke has thought up several toys for the pigs himself. Standing out among these is the 'sex doll' for boars. With animal welfare in mind, fewer and fewer boars are being castrated, which however results in assaulted, wounded and crippled animals in the pen. An 'artificial pig' can be a solution. Livestock Research has tested a contraption made of a firmly anchored half of a car tyre, on which the boars can mount. The result is that boars aggravate one another less.
Bracke also wants to make the pigs work for a living. He has come up with exercise equipment for them to vent their energy and develop more muscles at the same time. He also wants to take advantage of the cleanliness aspect of the pigs. They could clean their own pens by pushing a slider with their snouts while rooting for food, so that excrement can be carried off in this way to the dung ditch. A plus for animal welfare and the environment, thinks Bracke.

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