Virtual pigs provide insight in the relation between behaviour, welfare and productivity
Current pig farming faces the challenge to produce both economically viable and animal friendly. A frequently asked question is: can we combine productivity and animal welfare, or benefits one at the expense of the other? This research shows that understanding the behaviour of a pig is central to answer this question. Eating behaviour, for example, influences productivity through growth, but also animal welfare through stress and aggression as a result of competition around the feed trough. Studying virtual pigs by using a computer simulation gives insight into the emergence of behavioural patterns and the relationship of these patterns with growth and welfare of individual pigs. For example, pigs have a typical 24 hour eating rhythm with a morning and afternoon peak. Results show that competition around the trough during peak hours can lead to both reduced growth and reduced welfare. Whether the growth and welfare of a specific pig are affected depends on the personality of that pig and its group members. The absence of a morning peak can be a sign of limited growth and reduced welfare for a low ranking pig. Information about behavioural patterns is important for early identification of problems in pigs and contributes to economically viable and animal friendly pig farming.